Is America Still a Serious Country?
Well, it looks like Donald Sterling will not be getting that NAACP lifetime achievement award he was set to receive at the civil rights organization's 100th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles in May.
Allegedly, Sterling's 30-something girlfriend, a model who goes by the name of V. Stiviano, whom Sterling's wife of 50 years is suing, taped these remarks of the 80-year-old owner of the L.A. Clippers:
"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 ... and not to bring them to my games.
" ... Don't put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see ... and don't bring him to my games."
This rant of the octogenarian owner swept the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II right off of page one of the New York Times, whose headline blared: "Amid Uproar, Clippers Silently Display Solidarity."
The Times story told of how Clippers' players turned their warm-up sweatshirts inside out and donned black socks and black wristbands in protest of Sterling's remarks.
Not exactly John Lewis at Selma Bridge. And, still, the Clippers got waxed in the playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.
But the Times was not nearly done with this monstrous moral outrage, which even elicited the indignation of President Obama in Malaysia. The banner across the entire sports section of the Times read: "Vortex of Outrage Trails Clippers Owner."
A photo of the team standing solemnly in their red warm-up suits covered half the page, and two Times' columnists decried the horror.
Wrote Michael Powell of Sterling: He stands "exposed as a gargoyle, disgorging racial and sexual animosities so atavistic as to take the breath away."
Finally getting his breath back, Powell went on: "The Clippers players and coaches are no doubt mortified to have awakened in the midst of a playoff run to find that they are working for the Bull Connor of Southern California."
But how could Sterling be the Bull Connor of California when he has a girlfriend who describes herself as black and Mexican, hired a black coach for his Clippers, Doc Rivers, and pays his players, mostly black, millions of dollars a year?
If memory serves, Bull Connor was into using fire hoses, billy clubs and German Shepherds on civil rights demonstrators in his hometown of Birmingham. Sterling regularly sits courtside to cheer on the predominantly black team he has proudly owned for 33 years.
His rant sounds rather like an old guy mortified and humiliated at seeing his girlfriend, half his age, on TV and the Internet, making a fool of him, with black men — in public.
As for the girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend now, she allegedly taped the conversation without his knowledge, a violation of state law.
But there is apparently much more to this story than the rant, as the Times' Billy Witz relates:
"In 2009, Sterling paid a $2.725 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department accusing him of systematically driving African-Americans, Latinos and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned."
Why did the league not deal with Sterling then for an offense far more grievous than a phone call to his girlfriend to stop making a fool of him with Magic Johnson.
Former NBA great Elgin Baylor, his former general manager, charged Sterling in a lawsuit with running a "Southern plantation-type structure" as boss of the Clippers.
And Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post reports on far nastier remarks, as she writes that Sterling said of blacks in 2002 that they "smell and aren't clean."
"That quote," says Jenkins, "comes from sworn testimony in a 2002 slumlording case against Sterling for discriminating against tenants, not just blacks but also Hispanics, whom he called lazy drunks, and Koreans, whom he deemed too powerless to complain, according to statements compiled by Deadspin.com."
"Sterling's wormy mind," writes Jenkins, has been "common knowledge among NBA owners and executives for years, as far back as 1983 when he allegedly called his own players the N-word during a job interview with Rollie Massimino conducted while drinking champagne."
"There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league," says LeBron James. But that was this weekend.
Which brings us to the unanswered questions.
How did Donald Sterling get away with behavior, in a professional sports league dominated by black players, which would get a college kid kicked out of school and scarred for life? Have they no morals clause in the NBA? How was Donald Sterling voted that lifetime achievement award by the NAACP?
The answer to all likely lies in the adage: Follow the money.
Nevertheless, when nonsense like stupid racial remarks by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Clippers boss Donald Sterling can consume the nation's conversation for a full week, it does raise a far more disturbing question:
Is America still a serious country?