Donald Sterling is an unapologetic racist. If you know anything about his history in the league and/or his real estate dealings, that’s a widely agreed upon fact in any mind capable of rational thought. For some, the issue is complicated by the details of how he was exposed (and why) as well as the public outrage (feigned by some, exacerbated by others) fueled by a ridiculously above-average Playoffs, incessantly stirred by a salaciously rabid 24hr news cycle.
Jason Whitlock (former Fox Sports columnist, now ESPiNstigator) chose to focus on these details in his recent column on Donald Sterling. Touting rhetoric about an invasion of privacy that threatens American freedoms and claiming Sterling has been transformed from a villain to a martyr by a hypocritical society. Phrases such as ‘sacrificial lamb’, ‘mob rule’, and ‘white supremacy’ highlight a column hell-bent on tilting ESPN’s click-o-meter.
Whitlock attempts to qualify his viewpoint with patronizing commentary about Sterling merely being a symptom of a bigger problem, but that’s like trying to usurp a doctor’s diagnosis by stating discomfort is a symptom of a broken neck.
First, attempting to invert the outrage and decry this an egregious violation of American freedoms and right to privacy is hypocritically short-sighted. A right to privacy isn’t a right to a lack of accountability. The only thing that has protected Donald Sterling from being held accountable for his thoughts and misdeeds has been money, sealed documents, and that only 3 people watch C-SPAN with any regularity. Outside of a courtroom full of high price-per-hour lawyers, his money means nothing. V. Stiviano doesn’t work for the NSA, FBI, or CIA. Donald Sterling is not being charged with a crime, he’s simply having to (finally) face accountability.
Veiled systemic racism is the new racism. As focused as the reactions to Donald Sterling were, they came only after a voracious news cycle, unleashed via social media, flooded mainstream consciousness. If anything, this is a lesson highlighting the necessity to think critically and revealing the forgotten, yet most effective means to its eradication.
So, perspective is important when looking at a situation such as this. But so are facts. Without the foundation of fact, perspective morphs into opinion.
Here are the facts:
1) This happened during the most entertaining and competitive first round of NBA playoff games since, probably, ever.
2) Young black men with money and glory on the line with every bounce of a basketball were willing to halt the spectacle until decisive action was taken.
3) Swiftly, they were backed up by the sternest words an NBA commissioner has ever spoken. EVER.
This is important.
Black youth pay attention to basketball more than any other sport. The players are instantly recognizable, looked up to, and emulated. What black youth saw was millionaire athletes who look like them (many with similar backgrounds with roots in communities that are either identical or familiar) take a stand against the slave-master mentality of Clippers owner Donald Sterling – during the most important part of any, especially this NBA season.
Players across the league were prepared to make sacrifices to ensure the fair treatment of not only themselves, but every one of every race Sterling placed in his crosshairs during his rant. Young black kids saw the juxtaposition of those who say they’re on your side then accept donations from a known bigot, being willingly purchased as the metaphorical/enabling “black friend” (ie NAACP) and those who legitimately are, as shown by their actions (players, coaches, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver).
This is meaningful.
This was a ridiculously talented team with as good a chance as any to play for the NBA Championship publicly saying, and showing, that freedom from discrimination is bigger than the trophy they’ve trained for their entire lives.
Even through a mirror distressed with the mainstream popularization of the n-word and a generation engorged with unproductive anger, you can make out the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and 70’s. The willingness to sacrifice, diligently yet non-violently, is what spurs change. Extreme emotions and/or reactions only polarize and transform truth into a battleground littered with bias, opinion, and the selfish desire to be “right.” If this spirit is noticed, and if we’re aware enough to draw these parallels, this can be a moment that leads to the first truly positive movement in the black community in over 40 years.
The very same youth crammed together in slums created by the bias and discrimination of Donald Sterling and others like him (because there are more, many more) in the real estate market were given a new, affective perspective.An alternative to the violence that exists due to a litany of barriers fundamentally engrained within society has been long overdue. This culture needs to change and now there’s tangible and current evidence of what works. There’s power in numbers, but more when numbers act, determined, as one.
That’s why this is important. That’s why this is meaningful.
There is no greater lesson in accountability than being shown that not only are you capable of overcoming your situation, but it’s worth the sacrifices you’ll need to make to do so.