The News: As the National Basketball Association prepares to try to force out Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the embattled owner says he will not sell his team.
The NBA requires 75 percent of its team owners, or 23 of the total 30, to vote in favor of terminating Sterling’s ownership. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said he’s “confident” he will receive enough support. On Wednesday, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said he expects the vote against Sterling to be unanimous.
The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, LeBron James, on Wednesday urged the league to move swiftly “no matter how long it takes, no matter how much money it costs.”
The owners’ advisory and finance committee is expected to discuss the matter Thursday.
The Take: There is no question that Sterling’s girlfriend violated his privacy, perhaps unlawfully, by recording their conversation. Indeed, the NBA’s response set a possibly ominous precedent for everyone in professional sports, where racial slurs are commonly spoken during competition and in locker rooms.
Will the next player or coach who utters the n-word on the court be suspended? It would be consistent with the NFL’s potential ban of the n-word. What if he says it elsewhere in public or during a private phone conversation?
For now, who cares? Sterling publicly proclaimed his racist and misogynistic opinions to anyone with working ears. His methods of managing the team oozed racial bias. For the purposes of the NBA and Sterling’s future as an owner, he effectively forfeited his privacy on this matter years ago.
It is telling that the argument about privacy has been made more often than not by white people, such as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. It’s also instructive that many white people, such as the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, have narrowly focused on the perils of racist speech. They yanked the low-hanging fruit and went to town.
Why not also examine the beliefs that informed Sterling’s comments and, more important, how they became institutionalized in the Clippers organization and Sterling’s other businesses?
The NBA enabled Sterling by allowing a plantation mentality to metastasize within the Clippers organization. At the same, the NBA rode herd on the players, imposing a dress code, harsh penalties and other rules aimed at bridling the cultural characteristics of black men and hip-hop that came to redefine the NBA’s image.
So the NBA gets no pat on the back from me. It had no choice but to pitch Sterling over the side. Advertisers were bailing, and the players were resolved to boycott. My applause goes to the players for leveraging their clout to force the NBA to take approrpriately severe action—a move that may mark a turning point toward more professional athletes acting on their social conscience.
The NBA’s conduct here is analogous to America’s handling of race. Like the NBA, America is too comfortable ignoring its crazy old uncle.
Like the NBA, America has created an unrealistically high bar for proving racism—so high that most such complaints rarely succeed, and complainants are marginalized and ridiculed for irrationally “playing the race card.”
We see this commonly in rape cases, with the accusers subjected to greater scrutiny than the accused.
America condemns racism only on irrefutable proof of the Duck Dynasty variety, today’s symbolic equivalent of white cops unleashing dogs on black children. It is easy to condemn Sterling because he reassures the rest of us that we are OK. Identifying the more pervasive problem of subtle or implicit bias would require us to question ourselves, and that’s too scary for us. America is too deeply invested in denial for that.
If you think Sterling will go quietly, think again. He has spent his entire adult life litigating in courtrooms. At some point he may force the court to answer a vexing question: Did his racist words give the NBA lawful grounds to oust him, or was his right to free speech violated? The league’s 33 years of silence on this may come back to bite.
For a history of Sterling’s racist remarks, read here.
The News: A botched execution in Oklahoma has renewed the debate over capital punishment, raising questions about whether drugs used in lethal injections violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
It remains unclear what went wrong during the execution Tuesday of convicted rapist and murderer Clayton Lockett. Witnesses described him convulsing and writhing on the gurney, and struggling to speak, after he was supposed to have been unconscious. Officials stepped in and blocked the witnesses’ view.
Lockett died of a massive heart attack, according to authorities. Oklahoma halted the execution of another inmate, Charles Warner, that was to follow Lockett’s.
This was the first time the state of Oklahoma used a new cocktail of three drugs for an execution. The state has declined to disclose the makeup of the cocktail or the supplier of the drugs, a decision that has drawn criticism from death-penalty opponents.
“We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely—and I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Thirty-two states have the death penalty, as does the U.S. government and the U.S. military. Since 2009 three states—New Mexico, Connecticut and Maryland—have voted to abolish it.
The Take: If it were a cartoon, it might be funny to watch the dogged stupidity of Oklahoma and other states bungling their efforts to execute inmates. Imagine Wile E. Coyote’s failures to kill the Road Runner.
But these blunders are having deadly consequences, making for a perverse abuse of government authority.
Given the problems with lethal-injection protocols—particularly the use of unproven drug cocktails procured from unknown sources—these cases amount to Oklahoma and other states conducting experiments on condemned inmates. That’s right: human experimentation. Ohio and Florida are among other states whose lethal injections using unknown cocktails have caused seemingly agonizing deaths for inmates.
The racial disparities alone raise serious doubts about whether the death penalty is justly applied. More often than not, the lab rats in these experiments are African American. (Lockett was black, as is Warner.) Blacks make up about 12 percent of the population but 42 percent of death row inmates.
And those who murdered whites are more likely to receive death sentences: Death row has 20 whites who murdered blacks, and 270 blacks who murdered whites.
A new study published in a publication of the National Academy of Sciences delivers a further indictment: One in every 25 death row inmates likely is innocent, and additional investigation would exonerate another 4 percent, or more than 200 inmates.
The debacle in Oklahoma is a case study in the abuse of power. The state shrouded executions in secrecy by concealing the types of drugs to be used, prompting the state Supreme Court to issue a stay of Lockett’s and Warner’s executions. In an astonishing show of gall, Gov. Mary Fallin disregarded the ruling and announced that the executions were back on, and the state Legislature began impeachment proceedings against the justices in retaliation. Amazingly, the justices blinked and promptly reversed themselves.
I have little faith that an investigation of the execution that Fallin ordered will be independent because she’s the one who selected the investigators.
The mess started when states had to find new drugs to use because European-based manufacturers, including the maker of the key drug pentobarbital, banned U.S. prisons from using theirs for executions.
Why? Because these companies didn’t want their drugs being used to kill people.
States have been undeterred and are scrambling for alternatives, along the way covering their tracks with secrecy laws and at times possibly breaking laws governing the importation of drugs.
Citizens have no clue how their tax money is being used to procure lethal cocktails.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that capital punishment is fraught with false convictions, abuse, injustice and inhumane practices, the urgency to kill in Oklahoma and other states borders on bloodlust.
This should put to rest the notion that executions are painless, let alone humane, for the condemned. Or that they, given the years of waiting for executions, bring closure for victims’ families. Let’s hope these states continue to screw up so badly that it hastens the erosion of support that permits the killing to continue, because it’s long past time we stopped meting out justice based on a single line in the Old Testament.
Over the next three months, each branch of the service will re-evaluate its policy “to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force, while also meeting our military service’s requirements,” a Pentagon official said.
The backlash centered on the Army’s recent change in regulations, which ban large braids and cornrows, dreadlocks and most twists. Most women with longer hair could be affected by a new rule allowing no more than two braids, but criticism is strongest for rules prohibiting coiffures worn mostly by African Americans with natural hairstyles.
Female members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote Hagel a letter in which they criticized the Army’s new guidelines as “discriminatory rules targeting soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair.”
The Take: Shout-out to Chuck Hagel!
Anytime you categorize black women’s hair as “unkempt” or “matted,” as the Army did in its new regulations, there will be trouble. I mean, really, don’t ever mess with sisters’ hair.
A Pentagon spokesman said the review of the policies will “revise any offensive language.” Hagel is doing the right thing. It can’t be overstated how unusual it is for the Pentagon to respond favorably to a backlash over something as seemingly minor as uniform policy. I can’t help wondering if it’s due to the influence of President Barack Obama and the cultural impact of a black first lady.
Either way, women in uniform are a strong force in their own right. They represent nearly 15 percent of active-duty personnel, and blacks make up roughly a third of all women in uniform.
I wrote about this last month. Since then the furor has mushroomed. An Army National Guard sergeant’s online petition collected more than 13,000 signatures asking President Obama to order the Army to reconsider the rules.
While I can’t take credit for it, it’s a rare happy occasion when I can report a positive outcome from our reporting. Hoorah!
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., writes The Take and is a contributing editor at The Root. He appears on MSNBC and CNN and contributes to NPR. He is a former NPR correspondent and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Give him your “take” on Twitter.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.