What words come to mind when you hear that name? Disgusting. Despicable. Racist. Bigot. Gross. Diarrhea. Creep.
What about victim? I’ve heard it said in recent days, that even though Sterling is all of those first few words, he is also a victim. That as reprehensible as his opinions are, he still had a private conversation unfairly shared to the public, which resulted in him losing the one thing he reportedly loves more than anything else: The Clippers. I’ve also heard it said (by Mark Cuban, among others) that banning Sterling from the NBA sets a possibly dangerous precedent. Hmmm …
While I get that by law Sterling is a victim here, I tend to not care. As somebody who is an active despiser of the NSA, and its invasion of personal liberties, I really should care more that Sterling’s privacy was violated. But guess what: I don’t care at all. He is, by all accounts, an awful man, surpassed in awfulness by very few (e.g. Jerry Sandusky). Simple as that. Take twenty minutes to google his past exploits (start here or the fifty other viable options), and you will likely come away thinking basically the same thing.
The precedent, however, is something entirely different. When I heard that Adam Silver came down on Sterling with nuclear-like impunity, I was, like many people, proud that a seemingly evil man was given what he appears to deserve. Good had conquered evil. Equality and humanity had ousted inequality and inhumanity. But after thinking about it some more, I was nervous by what this may mean in the future.
If one’s private views are grounds for complete banishment from a league, what kinds of doors does this open? My nervousness initially stemmed from two things. One, I consider myself a student of history. In history, we’ve learned in the legal courts (among other places) that precedents can set the stage for unsavory and sometimes unjust rulings. While the motives behind the Sterling banishment were praiseworthy, what happens if later on they are not? Two, as a Utah Jazz fan, I was worried what this might mean if there ever comes a time when the league has a want to move the Jazz out of Utah. If the league can force an NBA owner to sell his team for his private views, on what other grounds can they force the sell of a team?
Admittedly, all these concerns were still small, since this whole Sterling situation does appear to be wholly unique. A crazy (emphasis on the CRAZY) old bigot, who has clearly lost his mind, made an incredibly senile recounting of plantation politics to his half-black girlfriend, with an ominous recorder apparently tuned in. In today’s day and age, such egregious views are held by so few, and even less by those in the public eye. This is surely an isolated incident, I decided.
But then I came across this. Jay-Z, a former Brooklyn Nets stakeholder, and current scout to NBA superstar Kevin Durant (among others), went to a Brooklyn Nets game, wearing an enormous Five Percent Nation necklace.
Five Percent Nation, in case you are unaware (or refuse to go the link), is a group which (among other things) believes that white people are the devil. If that sounds racist to you, it’s because it clearly is. This group is roughly the black equivalent of the modern-day Klu Klux Klan (emphasis on modern-day; as in the group that no longer murders, but rather infects susceptible people with their disgusting ideologies). And yet there was Jay-Z, wearing a giant Five Percent necklace, in public. And not just in public, but at an NBA basketball game. What’s more, NBA superstar, and New York Knickerbocker, Carmelo Anthony has been seen wearing his own gaudy Five Percent necklace.
Back to that precedent I was referring to earlier. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Sterling’s abhorrent comments are the same thing as a ridiculous piece of jewelry, but it’s also not a stretch to compare the two. I understand that the forms of racism that blacks have endured are much (MUCH!) more serious than any persecution whites have been subject to. Please do not diminish how much I believe this to be unequivocally true.
But at what point is racism simply racism, and at what point do we set aside the historical anecdotes of a time long gone, and focus on the here and now? Is their an expiration date on cultural affirmative action? Are we headed towards a future in which white people will endure a flipped script, where they are actively oppressed in sports (and elsewhere)? (I genuinely don’t know, but I, like many white people I know, wonder about this sometimes.)
Sterling was punished because of his racist personal views. That’s what Adam Silver said this week when he laid down the sledgehammer of justice. Are these necklaces a reflection of Jay-Z and Carmelo Anthony’s personal views? If they are, what types of punishment should they receive at the hands of Adam Silver? I mean, what exactly is the role of the NBA’s commissioner in squashing intolerance and racism? Is it to abolish all forms of racism, hate, and prejudice? Or is it only concerned with a very specific brand of hate? Is there currently a double standard?
What’s more, whose personal views do you think are more likely to negatively affect society as a whole, and in particular, young people: Jay-Z and Carmelo Anthony or Donald Freaking Sterling? Do you think any young kid heard Donald Sterling’s comments, and thought, “Wow, this crazy old gentleman makes some excellent points”? And how many young people, if they bothered to do a quick google search of the Five Percent necklaces, do you think would say, “Hmmm, Jay-Z and Carmelo think this?” …
Let’s be clear, Sterling has negatively impacted countless people’s lives, because he was in a role of professional superiority. His racist views, and general despicableness, diminished his employees and subordinates ability to find happiness in their work lives. But that is not what Sterling was banned from the NBA for. He was banned for his personal views — personal views which I believe, when made public, had the effect of making racism look even more absurd than it is already viewed by the public. However, when two hip African American men, in the prime of their professional lives, where ostentatious pieces of jewelry, I believe they create a sort of mystical allure around both the Five Percent group, and its views.
Let’s put this another way. What do you think would happen if a prominent white figure in the NBA (hey, there are some!) were to come to an NBA game wearing a large KKK necklace? And what if we then found photos of another white player wearing the same necklace at a party? In my opinion, all hell would break loose. And yet, in the same month that an NBA owner was banned for his (private) racist views, a superstar NBA agent sat court-side at an NBA game wearing the symbol of an openly racist group. And nothing happened. Nothing. Of course, Jay-Z made his racist fashion statement before Sterling-Gate; before a precedent was set. So I guess his timing was lucky?
Much has been said this past week about the ramifications of Donald Sterling’s banishment. We’ve seemingly passed a threshold, as a society, where even thinking bigotry is equal to practicing bigotry (wouldn’t Jesus be proud?). But are we prepared to follow through with this new reality when the bigotry involved goes against our preconceived notions?
This is where cynics will boldly say no. They’ll then add that Adam Silver’s ruling was merely a PR move, and an attempt to salvage the NBA’s public and financial standing. If he hadn’t banned Sterling, and forced him to sell the Clippers, the NBA would have hemorrhaged money quicker than Russell Westbrook can drive to the hoop for a layup. And what kinds of public and financial ramifications came to the NBA for ignoring Jay-Z (and Anthony’s) supposed personal views? Or for that matter, what happened when the NBA ignored Sterling’s troubled past back when it wasn’t nearly as public (or mysteriously acquiesced to him in 1983)?
What did we really learn from the Donald Sterling banishment?
I don’t know the answers to a lot of the questions I’ve posed. Maybe I should just be happy that the most despicable owner in sports history was kicked out of the NBA, and stop asking silly questions. I don’t know. But the questions themselves leave me uneasy, and I’m not nearly as proud as I was the day Adam Silver announced the banishment of Donald Sterling. And I don’t think you should be either.
Bryson Kearl wrote this article from his home in Sri Lanka. You here that? He lives in Sri Lanka, so don’t even bothering to find out where he lives, so that you can go burn his house down.