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It's not just about Donald Sterling's race issue

Crunch Time


What does one say about this whole issue with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his alleged racist remarks?

I’ve listened to the audio recordings first released by TMZ. They’re disgusting in a myriad of ways, and I’ll not sully this column by repeating them here. Go listen for yourself.

There is also the matter of how the recordings came about, secretly and likely illegally taped by Sterling’s mistress, V. Stiviano (if that IS her real name). TMZ is a nine-year-old celebrity/entertainment news site – read sleazy gossip. I wonder if they even know about part of the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code which says to “do no harm” in what you report.

TMZ, in releasing the recordings as they did, have done plenty of harm, beginning with the Clippers’ players, who now understand that their boss doesn’t view them as anything more than property, chattel, worthy only as an instrument to make money rather than as human beings. And TMZ, in airing the recording, played right into Stiviano’s alleged plans to “get even” at Sterling because she is being sued by the Sterling family for allegedly embezzling $1.8 million from them.

On the recording you can hear Stiviano asking questions obviously intended to draw him out on his views. As he takes the bait, those questions become more leading.

She got even all right. The problem is revenge often results in collateral damage, and there’s a lot of that now.

It’s a shame wounds have to be opened to deal with a problem that appears to have been known about before. For that you can read up on former 22-year Clippers’ general manager and NBA Hall of Fame member Elgin Baylor’s wrongful termination lawsuit for race and age (Sterling won). Or the 2006 Department of Justice lawsuit against him claiming he refused to rent apartments to blacks or families with children (Sterling settled for $2.725 million).

Others have said they have long suspected Sterling of holding these views. Monday, erstwhile TV interviewing great Larry King, who at times shared Sterling’s owner’s box with him, told ESPN’s Collin Cowherd that while he personally had never heard Sterling make racist remarks, he had heard from others about said statements.

And yet, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was about to present Sterling with a lifetime achievement award – for the second time. The award, which was based on Sterling’s work with the organization to create an endowment at a local predominately black college and scholarships for black students at UCLA, has since been pulled.

If there’s any saving grace in this wholly sordid affair so far, it’s that Los Angeles NAACP president Leon Jenkins said Monday they are still willing to work with Sterling.

“God teaches us to forgive, and the way I look at it, after a sustained period of proof to the African American community that those words don’t reflect his heart, I think there’s room for forgiveness. I wouldn’t be a Christian if I said there wasn’t,” Jenkins said in an ABC News report.

Now that is truly the definition of the biblical idea of “grace.”

But there are still problems. The NBA has a problem if there exists a possibility other owners knew about Sterling’s views, yet did nothing.

Owners, in any sport, can’t just be about making money – they also have to have respect for the game, the players and the fans. We trust them to be this way, and Sterling violated that. Silence with limited ramifications would only reinforce a perception of lack of respect.

And there are the rest of us. We have to face the fact that there are still big issues with race in this country, despite what some might say to the contrary and even if we don’t personally view ourselves as having a race issue.

Over time, sports have magnified these race issues, for good and bad. Maybe the other saving grace in the Sterling affair is that sports can once again serve to instigate change.

John McCallum can be reached at


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