The Herald Bulletin

May 1, 2014

Editorial: Sterling case shows need for vigilance against racism

The Herald Bulletin

---- — After President Obama was elected and then reelected, some touted a "post-racial" society in the United States. Indeed, the ascendance of Obama seemed to signal that America was ready — as Martin Luther King Jr. suggested — to judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

But we still get stark reminders that some Americans have not shed their prejudices, reminders that discrimination has deep and stubborn roots.

The latest high-profile example was provided by Donald Sterling, the owner of the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Clippers. Last week, an audio recording surfaced of Sterling telling his girlfriend not to bring African-Americans to Clippers games.

Most Americans will recognize Sterling's comments as an outrageous vestige of a bygone era when much of U.S. law and culture insisted on the separation of races.

But who thinks that way today?

Well, Donald Sterling and others of his ilk. The attitudes they harbor in the darkness of their hearts and in their warped minds occasionally spill out for all to see.

Discrimination will continue to exist as we move into the future of our "post-racial" society. What's important is that the public respond in appropriate ways by castigating such attitudes, prosecuting criminal discrimination, and emphasizing again that all should be treated equally, regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and other factors.

In this case, the NBA responded with a $2.5 million fine of Sterling, the largest allowed under the league's bylaws. Commissioner Adam Silver also banned Sterling for life from NBA arenas, boardrooms and management decisions. Silver vowed to push team owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

This last punishment is hollow until the action actually takes place. Three-quarters — 23 — of the NBA's owners must vote to force the sale. Sterling, who is known for his willingness to litigate and has been sued twice (in 2003 and 2006) for allegedly forcing blacks and Latinos out of his rental properties, will certainly fight the NBA in court.

Even if he loses, he'll reap a windfall of profit. He bought the Clippers for $12 million in 1981; the team is worth an estimated $575 million today.

One of the most disturbing aspects of Sterling's comments is that they came from an NBA owner, a man who has made millions of dollars from an industry where most of the performers are black. The league's players banded together in the aftermath of Sterling's comments to insist that the league severely punish the owner.

The NBA has a huge following of minority fans and has set the pace among U.S. professionals sports leagues in hiring of African-Americans for management and leadership positions.

If racism, bigotry and prejudice are harbored by an NBA owner, it indicates the nefarious presence of such perspectives in other aspects of American life.

We all must fight complacency and complicity in reacting to discrimination. Silent disapproval isn't enough. Until we drag the Donald Sterlings of our country into the light of public scrutiny, we are far from arriving in a post-racial era.