Why Wasn’t Donald Sterling Punished Earlier?

Sterling

What can I say about the recently announced punishment bestowed upon Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling? I can only point to this blog post by former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabaar that was posted on TIME.com. In it, he writes:

Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking. All over the latest in a long line of rich white celebrities to come out of the racist closet. (Was it only a couple days ago that Cliven Bundy said blacks would be better off picking cotton as slaves? And only last June Paula Deen admitted using the “N” word?)

Yes, I’m angry, too, but not just about the sins of Donald Sterling. I’ve got a list. But let’s start with Sterling. I used to work for him, back in 2000 when I coached for the Clippers for three months. He was congenial, even inviting me to his daughter’s wedding. Nothing happened or was said to indicate he suffered from IPMS (Irritable Plantation Master Syndrome). Since then, a lot has been revealed about Sterling’s business practices:

  • 2006: U.S. Dept. of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination. Allegedly, he said, “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
  • 2009: He reportedly paid $2.73 million in a Justice Dept. suit alleging he discriminated against blacks, Hispanics, and families with children in his rentals. (He also had to pay an additional nearly $5 million in attorneys fees and costs due to his counsel’s “sometimes outrageous conduct.”)
  • 2009: Clippers executive (and one of the greatest NBA players in history) sued for employment discrimination based on age and race.

His post continues and makes the excellent point that we should “be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident.” Why did it take a leak to Deadspin and a shark-infested media frenzy to do something? Why didn’t anyone with some authority (hello, David Stern?) in the NBA care about the discrimination, racism and hate ‘allegedly’ expressed years ago?

Kareem’s post ends with: “Let’s use this tawdry incident to remind ourselves of the old saying: ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.’ Instead of being content to punish Sterling and go back to sleep, we need to be inspired to vigilantly seek out, expose, and eliminate racism at its first signs.” I couldn’t agree more.

But former NBA Commissioner David Stern sat on the sidelines and spent years listening to Donald Sterling’s racist commentary, which was even documented (see Kareem’s list above). And when you think about it…would Commissioner Adam Silver have done the same if this recording had not ‘leaked?’ If others made complaints or sued Donald Sterling because of ‘alleged’ comments and actions, what then? Would he have paid his attorney fees and continued collecting millions thanks to the very people he discriminated against in general conversation (and possibly everyday life)?

It’s appalling to me that Mr. Sterling’s actions were swept under the rug for as long as they had been, but I can appreciate the repercussions he has to deal with now. I only hope something like this doesn’t happen again, but I can’t say that it won’t. For now, we’ll carry on…

Update: After discussing the ‘punishment’ with fellow TCW blogger Kali Raoul, I took a deeper look at the scope of the repercussions. And they’re bullsh**t. He’s been fined 0.13 percent of his net worth, he’s banned for life (dude’s 80 years old) and he stands to make money from the sale of the team (unless there’s some contingency that he has to donate the money to charity). In the end, it’s not about the punishment for his statements. To me, again, it’s a shame he wasn’t ‘punished’ when his actions (which were brought to light in legal matters) were just swept under the rug.

Photo courtesy ESPN.com

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About Carrie Williams

Carrie Williams is TCW's managing/digital editor. She manages day-to-day editorial operations of the monthly print publication, website and social media outlets, contributes to a variety of feature articles and directs a team of interns, freelance writers and bloggers. In early 2013, she led the redesign of TCWmag.com/restructure of TCW's brand strategy. Her blog, "Carrie On," is a blog of reflection and discovery, discussing how to push through life when you’re handed one too many curveballs. And finally, Ms. Williams is also executive director of the TCW Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit supporting underfunded women's and children's organizations.