The Spectacle Blog

What Kind of Racist Is Donald Sterling?

By on 4.28.14 | 11:03PM

Up until three days ago, if you had mentioned Donald Sterling I would have told you that he was the owner of one of the worst franchises in professional sports. While it's true that the Clippers have enjoyed three consecutive winning seasons featuring superstars like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul; for most of the last three decades the Clippers have been the poor cousins of the Lakers. 

 
But over the past 72 hours, Sterling has become a household name following taped revelations telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to Clippers game including NBA legend and current Los Angeles Dodgers owner Magic Johnson. Tomorrow the NBA will announce what it intends to do with Sterling.
 
Aside from Sterling's comments being hateful and undoubtedly a kick in the gut to the Clippers' players and to head coach Doc Rivers (who is African-American) they are also peculiar. After all, Sterling owns a franchise in a sport in which 76.3% of its players were African-American in 2013. Compare that with 66.3% in the NFL and only 8.5% in Major League Baseball. If he holds African-Americans in such contempt why would he buy a franchise in which three out of every four players are African-Americans? What kind of racist is Donald Sterling?
 
Donald Sterling is the kind of racist that hired Elgin Baylor to be his General Manager in 1986. To put that into perspective, it was the following year when Los Angeles Dodgers GM Al Campanis went on national TV during the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking MLB's color barrier to tell a shocked Ted Koppel that African-Americans "might not have some of the necessities to be" a manager or a general manager. Campanis was promptly fired. However, he was later hired by sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards (who had been hired by MLB Commissioner Peter Uebberoth in the wake of Campanis' remarks) to assist him in increasing minority representation in MLB front offices. 
 
Although Baylor spent 22 years as the Clippers GM, he enjoyed only two winning seasons during his tenure before being let go in 2008. I can't imagine any other organization keeping a GM for two decades with only two winning seasons to show for it. Nevertheless, Baylor subsequently sued Sterling for race and age discrimination, but a jury ruled in favor of Sterling. Despite Baylor's lawsuit, it didn't prevent the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP from bestowing Sterling with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. He was to receive another Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP next month until shortly after the story broke.
 
It is true that Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice back in 2006 for housing discrimination. Sterling and the DOJ settled out of court without Sterling admitting liability. 
 
It appears that the 80-year old Sterling possesses a typical 1960s white liberal attitude towards African-Americans. He might have no problem hiring African-Americans, but he doesn't want to live next door to nor associate with them in a social setting on an equal footing much less see them hanging around his daughter (or in this case his girlfriend). This is the kind of racist Donald Sterling is. It's like old Phil Ochs' lyric: "I love Puerto Ricans and Negros as long as they don't move next door/So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal." For that matter, one could watch Guess Who's Coming to Dinner(For the record, Sterling is a registered Republican who has donated money to Democrats.).
 
Racism, like poverty, will always be with us. But what has changed in the past 50 years is that there is no faster way to become a social pariah in this country than to be accused of racism. In fact, one could make the case that in some circles being accused of racism is worse than being accused of rape or murder. Regardless of what the NBA does to Donald Sterling tomorrow, his public life is over.
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