I am still in shock over the racist rant of Clippers owner Donald Sterling this weekend. However, what is equally astonishing is that he was set to receive the lifetime achievement award from the NAACP at its upcoming 100th anniversary gala in Los Angeles. I am dumbfounded how someone who allegedly holds such hateful views would even maintain a basketball team in Los Angeles, but the thought that he might have received an award from the NAACP is truly otherworldly. The legal options for the NBA will now take center stage in the controversy. In the meantime, there is no conclusive proof that it was Sterling on the tapes, which is now the focus of the investigation.
Over the weekend, various sites published messages from Sterling to his girlfriend (who is part African American and Mexican) that were reportedly triggered by her posting an innocent picture with Magic Johnson. Well, who would not post a picture with Magic Johnson. Clearly Donald Sterling would not. He has been quoted on various sites as telling his girlfriend V. Stiviano that “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (3:30) Then two hours later, he is quoted as saying “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” (5:15) Then two hours later (yes, there seems to be a pattern in eruptions) there is another missive: “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” (7:45). Then two hours later, that is “…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.” (9:13)
Don’t bring black people to my games? He runs a team in Los Angeles where ten percent of the population is black.
The NAACP was going to give Sterling an award despite a prior lawsuit by former Clippers exec Elgin Baylor for racial discrimination (Sterling won the case but many are now reexamining the allegations for obvious reasons) What is fascinating is that this was going to be the second lifetime achievement award (I always assumed you got one per life but that is just me). The last NAACP award was given while he was being such for racial discrimination.
Sterling was born Donald Tokowitz and later changed his name to Sterling. He was born in 1934 in Chicago and graduated from California State University, Los Angeles (1956) and Southwestern University School of Law (1960) in Los Angeles. He worked as a divorce and personal injury attorney.
The team has not confirmed or denied that it is Sterling’s voice but said that it is investigating to see if anything was altered or faked. It issued a statement that the comments do not reflect Sterling’s true feelings about black fans or black people in general.
There is a call for Sterling to sell the team, though he may be less inclined to do so in a distressed position where buyers will want a discounted price.
The interesting legal question is whether the NBA can effectively move against an owner for his private racist views. If you recall, the National Baseball Association faced such a controversy with Margaret Unnewehr Schott when she was the president and CEO of Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. Yet, only one owner has been suspended in 68 years under the NBA, though others have been fined. The rules are exceptionally vague and confidential. Commissioner Adam Silver is allowed to act to protect the “best interests” of the game. This includes the right to investigate and fine. However, trying to force the sale of a team for privately held views could raise serious legal issues. There is reportedly a power to force the sale of a team but I would be skeptical of the ability to do so without some serious legal challenges. They could clearly suspend Sterling which may be the best option if the tapes are authenticate. That would allow Sterling to keep that team and not be forced into a distress sale (and likely litigation with the NBA).
I am also curious as to how this tape was made. I believe that California is a two party consent state. The question is whether the taping violated the law. This is likely to get even messier as we drill down on these facts.
Source: USA Today