So the National Basketball Association tribe has banished Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling, 80, and figuratively put him out on an ice floe to perish.
Sterling may sue and definitely will not perish. He has an estimated $2 billion to keep him warm. But his stupid, racist comments, made in a phone call released to media by his African/Latina mistress, will send him offstage for the rest of his life. No doubt, his eventual obituary will feature the just concluded episode in its first paragraph.
There is much to be said about Sterling's banishment, much of it less than serious. There is the obvious comeuppance he received being skewered by his vengeful and apparently most recent mistress, who was being sued by his wife. There is the irony that the NBA, with its long history of ethics leniency under previous Commissioner David Stern, is the body administering the punishment. If professional sports were cities, the NBA would be crass and smarmy Las Vegas.
The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP has cancelled the Lifetime Achievement Award it was scheduled to give Sterling in mid-May. Over the years, Sterling had given big money to the NAACP and invested in black-owned business ventures, apparently at least one led by former Laker star Magic Johnson, who was among the first to publicly denounce Sterling's phone statements.
I don't know Sterling but met him briefly in 1968 at a Los Angeles Democratic fundraiser when I was Vice President Humphrey's assistant and Sterling was a rising personal-injury attorney and real estate investor. Also attending the luncheon was Elgin Baylor, the former Seattle University and NBA basketball great, who was a member of Humphrey's presidential campaign staff. Baylor spent several years as the Clippers' general manager under Sterling but left after being paid far less than his peers in the NBA and accusing Sterling of personal abuse. He sued Sterling for discrimination but lost. Baylor was and is a first-rate human being.
Sterling's travails drove the Cliven Bundy story from the headlines. The Nevada rancher, who used public grazing lands for years without paying grazing fees, presented himself as some kind of frontier hero when the federal Bureau of Land Management arrived to collect his money or impound his cattle. A small band of independistas rallied to his cause until Bundy, like Sterling, buried himself with stupid statements about African Americans being happier sitting in front of their slave cabins than they are today.
All of this took place at a time when the nation was observing anniversaries of the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act, the breaking of baseball's color barrier (by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey) and the Holocaust.
Some in media, and in the Democratic Party, have tried to portray the Sterling and Bundy episodes as representative of wider racism in the United States. Al Sharpton and others have attempted to link the pair to the Republican Party. How so?
Time for a reality check.
Anyone who has lived through the political history of the past 50 years must attest, as President Obama did in commenting on the Sterling statements, that racism and discrimination have greatly diminished. Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that racial, gender, religious and ethnic biases would be dramatically reduced, and that gay marriage would enjoy majority public support?
Fact is, there always will be jerks and haters in any society, even our socially progressive one. We should not be shocked that wealthy, willful ones — even poor, willful ones — express unpalatable private opinions about individuals and groups. The rich ones usually get away with it, because their influence and power insulate them. But Sterling and Bundy got exposed publicly in such a way that no one dared defend or insulate them.
My own reaction, on encountering such people, is to avoid dealing with them. If and when they violate the law, I welcome their exposure and prosecution.
Bundy will be hearing from the federal revenuers again and will have to pay up or lose his herd. Sterling has been banished from basketball and told to sell his team, all on the basis of statements he thought were part of a private phone call, which may have been released to media illegally. He might contest the NBA sanctions on the ironic basis that they constitute a violation of his civil rights.
Sterling and Bundy have exposed themselves to public derision and contempt, which hits them directly in their large egos. We all now know who they are.
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