Monday, April 28, 2014

Donald Sterling's Offensive Remarks Reveal Deeper Issues in Sport

The recent "alleged" comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling (above) have quickly circulated throughout the NBA and amongst basketball fans. By now you have no doubt at least heard of the tape of Sterling that was released by TMZ, alleging that in conversations with his girlfriend (V. Stiviano, on Sterling's left), Sterling asked that she not bring African Americans to Clippers' games. He even asked that she not bring Magic Johnson to their games. In response to the polarizing comments, many NBA owners, former and current players, and even President Obama have spoken out in protest. Current Clipper team members had a silent protest by turning their jerseys inside out (so that the name of the Clippers would not be seen) and they wore black socks when they played.
The alleged comments by Donald Sterling reveal what ESPN's Scoop Jackson (2014) believes to be deeper issues, not just in the NBA but in all of sport. We have talked about some of these issues in previous Sport and Gender classes. And we have also discussed whether professional athletes should take a stand on political issues. In this case, we can see that many already have. Even the usually reluctant Michael Jordan expressed his views as an owner and former player, saying that as an owner, he was "completely disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views" (Terrill, 2014, para. 18). As a former player, Jordan said that he was "completely outraged" (Terrill, 2014, para. 19). Magic Johnson spoke out to say that Sterling should not be allowed to own a team if the comments can truly be attributed to him.

The deeper issues outlined by Jackson (2014) provide even more compelling evidence that racism is alive and well in sport. We would like to believe that in 2014 we have come much further than this - and yet, there is evidence in every major professional sports' league that racism persists. Among the evidence that Jackson points out:  (1) He asks how is it that in a league that is 80% black, "there is only one majority black owner of an NBA franchise" (para. 6); (2) In MLB, where Jackie Robinson crossed the color barrier to open doors to African Americans, only about 10% of the players today are African American; (3) In the NFL, it takes the Rooney Rule for owners to be encouraged (by threat of punishment) to even interview a minority candidate as a coach; and (4) in 2011, in the NHL Wayne Simmonds (below) was rattled by someone throwing a banana on the ice in front of him.

This is 2014! Racism is supposed to be over. Yet, all of this evidence indicates that it is not. What will it take? And what should these NBA players (on the Clippers, in the League, and the other owners) do to combat the hateful words spun by Sterling? What should the new Commissioner Adam Silver do? Better yet, why hasn't he said something already? How long does it take to confirm that the tape reveals Donald Sterling?

Earlier today, Dan Patrick asked Bomani Jones to finish this sentence: "In a year from now, if Donald Sterling is still the owner of the L.A. Clippers, it will be__________________." Bomani completed the sentence by saying... "business as usual." Let us hope that is not the fate of the NBA, or of our society. Let us hope that enough people express outrage so that something changes dramatically.