Donald Sterling’s publicly disclosed comments depict an anachronistic view of race relations in this country. His interview tour is beyond incomprehensible—it’s sad, ignorant, and completely shows that he has lost touch with reality. His media revelations are undoubtedly hurtful, not only to the African-American players and staff of the NBA, but really hurtful to many Americans—regardless of their race—who feel that finally (as partially symbolized by the ascension of President Barack Obama and others) we have evolved as a society beyond a preoccupation with race. These are people who are proud to live in a nation that has moved closer to an ideal, a nation that urges us to judge our fellow humans by their competence and character, instead of their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
It was and remains an embarrassing moment, not only for the NBA and society, but surely also for the Sterling family, who now must live under the stigma or suspicion that deep within their hearts, they condone the sentiments expressed by their patriarch. Hopefully, the candid peek behind the curtain into the private life of Sterling can also help us air some of the dirty laundry about race in this country and speak a bit more frankly than civil discourse usually permits. In response to an interviewer’s question about “whether something good can come out of this,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “I think something good comes out of everything.” And that “something good” might be that some wealthy African-Americans would put their money where their race is and step up to become part of an ownership group that ultimately purchases the LA Clippers.
That is a potentially good outcome, but not for the reasons some may assume. First, it marks a departure from the usual stance that Blacks have had toward dealing with racism and demonstrates the progress that this country has made towards obliterating racial discrimination. In the not-so-distant past, even if some individual blacks had achieved the financial wealth to be in a position to purchase a major sports franchise, their ability to purchase might have been blocked for other, non-economic reasons. The fact that the NBA and the other team owners are encouraging and demanding Black entrepreneurs take a leadership role as owners in the league is a sign of maturity on the part of society.
But it also marks an opportunity for more African-Americans to mature and recognize their significant economic power in the marketplace of ownership. Some American Blacks have taken comfort in a position of victimhood in this society. In some respects, it has removed the responsibility to take control of their own lives. For them, racism has been more of a crutch than an impediment, in that it discounted personal failures and amplified personal success. The very fact that Black ownership of professional sports teams remains a milestone despite the financial capacity of members of Black community to purchase them is an obvious example. Why does it take such a repugnant event to spark the ownership bug? And is the symbolism of having Blacks in the owner’s box possibly overshadowing the real business realities of professional sports franchise ownership?