If you’re trying to distance yourself from comments that make you sound as if you’re a card-carrying member of the KKK, don’t say this:

Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.

Either you made the comments, or you didn’t. This is not one of those cases in which context might help shed new light on the words themselves. That this boilerplate from the Cilppers’ organization is the best they can do resolves definitively the question of whether it’s Sterling in the audio. If it weren’t, the statement would have said, “That is not Donald Sterling’s voice. He did not say those things.” The comments are, of course, not at all the antithesis of who Sterling is. They are, indeed, closer to the thesis statement of his life.

Outrage directed against Sterling by a large chorus of NBA players, executives and others is warranted. But I always feel a little uneasy during these sorts of episodes. That Sterling is, in many ways, reprehensible is clear enough. But there’s a *lot* more to racism in the United States than one man’s retrograde notions. Voting rights are under assault in this country. So is affirmative action.  A major recent investigation by Pro Publica described a “resurgence of resegregation” of schools. As I wrote in the aftermath of Michael Sam’s decision to discuss his sexuality publicly, there remains a yawning chasm between the life prospects of white Americans and black Americans, There are lots of people who would profess deep contempt for Donald Sterling’s pathetic sentiments who nevertheless fully endorse the laws and policies and fund the political movements most committed to perpetuating that chasm. Including, it’s worth pointing out, plenty of Sterling’s fellow owners, all of whom may be counted on to line up to express their shock and disgust at his comments.

Words matter, and vile words deserve opprobrium, *especially* when uttered by those with the power to translate ugly sentiments into actions that can do real damage to people’s lives. But moments like this are as likely to distract from the insidious ways that racism continues to pervade our society as they are to provide opportunities to illuminate what work still needs to be done. So while most folks can agree that Donald Sterling is a moron, (just as Cliven Bundy is a moron), let’s not spend too much time patting ourselves on the back because most of us would never say the kind of stupid shit Sterling says.



  1. It should bring to light some of the issues with that you brought up with the age limit. The racial and paternalistic themes that run through the leagues where minorities are majorities (NFL and NBA). Remember when Mark Cuban yelled at Kenyon Martin that he was a thug. He apologized to him and his mother but the mindset of some of these owners is troubling. Dan Gilbert also comes to mind when he was upset Lebron left and made it known with a letter. These examples in behavior are troubling given that this is a professional setting.

    1. Andrew,

      Yes, the age limits issue smacks of paternalism. Dwyane Wade called David Stern out for treating him like a child at a particularly heated meeting between players and owners during the 2011 lockout.

  2. The imbecility of Mr. Sterling has, as has Mr. Bundy’s, been exposed and rightly ridiculed and condemned. Yet, I fear we, “the public”, will take their castigation has further proof of how far we have come, to the “post-racial” society that Justice Roberts and his Klown Kourt have decreed into de jure existence. As you wrote, racial attitudes are complex and, often, subtle. The racial makeup of the NBA and NFL are rather common knowledge, but what of the racial makeup of the attendees? Division 1 football and basketball participants are overwhelmingly African-American, it’s attendees and financial supporters overwhelmingly white; therefore, what would explain why all polling shows whites overwhelmingly oppose paying these participants, providing long-term health care and allowing them to obtain a meaningful education that would lend real value to their scholarships, while blacks support these changes? As sorry an ass as Mr. Sterling is, he is merely the visible lesion to our “racial disease”.

    1. And for all the outrage about Sterling describing his players as if they are his property (and again, no complaints about Sterling getting dumped on), the way the NFL Combine in particular gets reported on sounds a lot like a chattel market.

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