An obvious exception and a greater problem.
I’d like to talk about all the great stuff that’s been going on in the NBA Playoffs, but this topic is more timely and deserves its own post. The greatness of these Playoffs will produce many more posts, so keep watch for those. For now, let’s talk about some issues surrounding the allegations that Adam Silver will have to make concerning Donald Sterling.
There are two main points I want to make with this issue (assuming of course that the recording is not a fabrication). There is a lot to talk about here, and you can find it on any sports outlet, but let me just say two things that I think are really important.
First is this great example of making obvious exceptions. If we consider this situation with a cold and shrewd microscope, Donald Sterling probably emerges from this without any real grounds for punishment. But that’s not the way we look at this, and it’s not the way we should look at this. Anyone can listen to what he said and say, with no fear of overstepping, “This man should not own an NBA team.” No one is going to get upset over profanity-laced tweets denouncing the very being of the Clippers owner.
But that is, at least according to the uncaring microscope, very odd. He said these things in private. Conversations with loved ones are only a step above the privacy of an intangible thought. He did not intend for the world to know about this opinion. And he is not the only person in power with some awful worldviews. There are bosses of varying degrees that hate blacks, and Mexicans, and Jews, and Christians, and women, and homosexuals, and cats. Yet they still have their job, and unless they do something really stupid, it will stay that way.
Sterling’s comments do not advocate violence against blacks. They do not encourage employment discrimination. He is stating a highly ignorant and hurtful opinion, but not one that is necessarily dangerous. He could have said “skateboarders” instead of “blacks” and “Tony Hawk” instead of “Magic Johnson” and we would have all just rolled our eyes at a senile billionaire who is terrible at running a franchise.
But this is messed up. And we know it. Clearly. There isn’t a question. Making millions off of black people that you hate sounds like slavery. But, then again, those black people are pretty well compensated. So we’re forced to do what is right and not necessarily fair. I do not want Donald Sterling owning a basketball team. But I can’t actually give you an irrefutable reason why. Neither can you.
My second thought deals with my saying, “Refutation without reflection is a tragedy.” If we let this landmark event go by without a serious evaluation of sports and the greater picture of American culture we will fail to learn some very important lessons.
The first is to consider our own racism. Racism is real, and it is one of the most important issues facing this country. It affects everyone. I hear racist comments all the time. The word “nigger” gets tossed around like a leaf in a tornado. People are still racist. So we can sit here and say that Donald Sterling is a horrible person, but what about you, or your friend? Should they lose their job? Should no one call them out? We are a nation crippled by a love of self and the pervasiveness of racism is a symptom of that.
We also need to consider what the ramifications should be for being a racist. Donald Sterling might lose ownership of his team for comments made in private. Yet there are people on both sides of the political spectrum who make a living by spouting racism in public. So is anyone with racist views subject to penalties?
If we hate Donald Sterling and what he says but don’t consider the state of our own views on race, and if we don’t consider the possibilities of other important and powerful people in this nation being racist or just generally bad, then we’re missing what we should be talking about. We’ve made this about one man. This shouldn’t be about one man. This is about one nation. A nation that watches Django Unchained and freaks out over the use of the word “nigger” for all the wrong reasons. A nation that gives the Academy Award for Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave when most people haven’t seen it and probably don’t care to. For too many, ending racism is a noble cause until they’re called to actually lend their efforts. As Lupe Fiasco puts it, “A rebel in your thoughts ain’t gon’ make it halt/If you don’t become an actor, you’ll never be a factor” (go and listen to “Words I Never Said”).
Donald Sterling should not own an NBA team.
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Soli Deo Gloria