On Race, Sex, and Basketball
Earlier today the saga of Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, took yet another turn with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announcing that Sterling is now banned from basketball for life. But this is a story that began with a private conversation between a man and his girlfriend – a conversation in which he told this woman of mixed race that he didn’t want her to be seen or photographed with black people. The attendant outrage and cries of racism took their predictable course, but some voices of dissent made themselves heard among the cacophany of voices calling for Sterling to be stripped of his franchise.
How, they asked, could Donald Sterling be a racist if his girlfriend is half black and half Mexican? To me the very question is farcical. Let’s remember that this woman is not the love of his life, she’s the woman he’s been shtupping for the past four years while he’s remained married to his white, blonde-haired wife of 50 years. The idea that you can innoculate yourself from charges of racism by sleeping with a minority is as hateful and poisonous as Donald Sterling’s original, racist statements. As comedian Patton Oswalt put it, “By that reasoning, every slave owner who ever raped one of his slaves was as egalitarian as MLK.”
The second dissent came from of all people Mr. Donald Trump, who I can only assume wasn’t asked. He said, in essence, that Sterling had been “set up” by a girlfriend with ulterior motives. Now aside from the obvious fallacy in his ‘blame-the-victim’ motif, an attempt to somehow blame the minority for the racism, let’s take a look at the sieve-like nature of his shot at logic. In Trump’s world, you can somehow wear someone down into racism – that you can take a man without racist tendencies and somehow goad him into it. This would be true under only one of two circumstances, both of which I reject:
First, that everyone is racist and hiding it. Are there people who live every day this way? Sure. Is it everyone? No. Does this make me wonder whether Trump is pre-emptively making excuses for what he perceives as his own, eventual racist spewings? I would not be the least bit shocked to find out that’s the case.
Second, that you can somehow maneuver someone into racism. The thought is that she is so wily and clever that she can somehow trick him into saying he doesn’t want her to associate or be photographed with black people. This one stretches credulity beyond the point of ridiculousness. Just try to imagine (assuming of course that you, the reader, are not a drooling racist) someone tricking you into a statement like that. What would they have to say? How would they so wind you up with logical wizardry that you would find yourself, despite your own pure heart, telling someone you were shtupping that you’re fine with them being seen and photographed with professional athletes…as long as they’re the white ones.
And finally, to basketball. The defense that baffles me the most is “how can he be racist if he employs so many black people to play on his team?” There’s an obvious trip here back to Patton Oswalt’s earlier statement. I don’t think there’s ever been someone, from slave owner to Marge Schott, so racist that he or she would not exploit a minority as long as there’s a buck in it. Donald Sterling gave huge monetary endowments to the NAACP – enough for them to give him an award that they then took back when the scandal broke. Why? Because the NAACP serves a large number of basketball fans both present and future. Those people buy hats, t-shirts and tickets. It’s all about solidifying the stream of dollars headed from someone else’s wallet into his. Does it matter whether that first wallet belongs to a minority? Be serious. The money’s just as green.
But at the center all these dodges ignore one thing. The charge stemmed from him telling his girlfriend not to be seen or photographed with blacks. All the dodges, obfuscations, what-ifs and qualifiers can’t change that central fact. To Donald Sterling there are two worlds, a black world and a white world. His girlfriend had a foot in both worlds and that was, to him, simply unacceptable. “Own” a bunch of black men who make you richer? That’s fine. Have them sit with your girlfriend at a basketball game? Oh hell no. Sleep with a minority? Well sure! Have her give the impression that you’re close to her minority friends? Unacceptable. Embarrassing.
That, my friends, is why the NBA made the right call.