I've wanted to write this since Sunday, but I didn't want to add to the already Everest-sized pile of articles on Donald Sterling. Like Richard Sherman's postgame spiel, Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend or the hundreds of BIGGEST STORIES EVER that have come before, Sterling's comments has become one of those stories every media outlet breathing feels obligated to cover, from hip-hop blogs to ESPN to Fox News, and those same outlets will undoubtedly forget about move in two weeks once public interest dies down.
But especially now that the NBA has
, and a relatively inconsequential fine, to the Clippers owner, I felt obligated to highlight one aspect of this story that's so far gone largely under-reported. To be clear, I'm far from
to bring up Sterling's long history of racism, and earlier today
far more powerfully than I ever could. But I still feel strongly enough about it to hunker down behind this keyboard, even at the risk of only adding to that pile of articles.
Enough with the disclaimers, here's the point: What exactly is Sterling being banned for? What, specifically, is it that prompted Adam Silver to impose the harshest punishment against an owner in league history? What did Sterling do that was so terrible that everyone from players to mayors to the president feel inspired to rise against him? In a
, in the course of an often confusing conversation, Sterling makes it clear he's a racist who would rather have his mistress have sex with Magic Johnson than post pictures of him on Instagram, or bring other black people to Clippers' games. among other fucked up things.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people." Donald Sterling, from TMZ tapes.
I hope it goes without saying that those comments are horrible, and I'm all for a ban based on them alone. But frankly, they're also only a drop in the ocean of far uglier racism that Sterling has perpetuted for decades with the NBA's full knowledge. A quick recap:
* Baron Davis says
while he played for him. The NBA does nothing.
* In 2009, Clippers GM and NBA legend Elgin Baylor sues Sterling for racial discrimination, claiming that, among other things, Sterling had a plantation view of the franchise and told him, "I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.” An arbitrator awards Baylor $13 million. The NBA does nothing.
* Most importantly, in 2006 the U.S. Dept. of Justice alleged that
, systematically refusing to rent certain properties to Black, Latino and Korean tenants, and illegaly conspiring to force minority tenants to leave his properties. Sterling pays the largest ever settlement for civil rights housing violations in U.S. history, a total of approximately $7 million. The NBA does nothing.
"That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean. And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. So we have to get them out of here." - Donald Sterling, from DOJ investigation testimonies.
And those are only the broad strokes. There was also the
, the time he
, and too many more incidents to name.
In the long, disgusting history of Donald Sterling, his most recent comments rank relatively low, and the NBA's recent reaction is the equivalent of shrugging as someone kills multiple people while drunk driving, then jailing them for a speeding ticket. This is what takes him down?* So what is it that the NBA can't tolerate now after it was willing to tolerate the largest civil rights housing violation settlement in U.S. history? (Scratch that, not only did they tolerate Sterling's well known racism for years, they actively supported him -
- because having two playoff-level franchises in L.A., the second largest media market in the country, would be a windfall for the league.)
Now, I'm sure there are people in the NBA who are genuinely sicked by Sterling's comments, and justifiably so, but the more pessimistic (some would say realistic) part of me knows why the league never gave Sterling so much as a slap on the wrist before today. Because housing discrimination isn't sexy, it doesn't go viral, it doesn't become a PR headache for the league and most importantly, corporate sponsors don't give a fuck about housing discrimination.
less than 24 hours after Sprint, Kia, State Farm, Red Bull and more cut ties with the Clippers in the wake of the scandal.
And of course. Of course the NBA is more motivated by money than social justice, and of course we're talking more about a leaked tape on TMZ than housing discrimination. I'm not above it by any means. Living in L.A. I knew about that story for years and I'm only just writing about it now. I wasn't in the streets protesting Sterling last week, or ever before. Looking at a system that not only tolerates those who practice systemic racist housing practices, but rewards then with billions of dollars and the occasional NBA franchise, is complicated and exhausting. It's so much easier to
, feel good for having done your part to fight racism in America, and get back to the booty. (
But if we want this Sterling ban to mean anything more than just another big TMZ story that fades away in a couple weeks, we need to use it as an opportunity to have some hard discussions about how, and when, we hold those in power accountable. Housing discrimination is a major reason why black males in Chicago are dying in record numbers, why black youth are 20% less likely to graduate high school than their white peers. Right now the enduring lesson in the Sterling ban threatens to be that if you're going to be racist, just make sure you're racist against poor, un-famous people and you'll be fine.
So while Sterling's ban is undoubtedly a good thing, we can do better than it, I can do better than that. Here's to having those hard conversations....
* "Down" is a relative term. Sterling might be banned for life, but he still owns the Clippers. And if he does sell the team, or is forced to sell, he'll still likely pocket a huge chunk of the Clippers estimated $500 million value. So yeah, don't cry for Sterling, he could easily walk away from this and right onto a private island.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth, the proprietor of RefinedHype, and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome.