This Whole Donald Sterling Thing

By: Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

donald sterling

For the past thirty years Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been well known for two things: a) referring to people of color, namely African Americans in a most offensive manner and b) being the worst owner in North American professional sports. In 1984, this miscreant purchased the San Diego Clippers and promptly moved the team north. At the time, many of his fellow NBA compatriots forbade him to do so. When he defied them, David Stern’s NBA slapped him with a $25 million fine. Undeterred, Sterling countersued for $100 million. The fine was eventually lowered to $6 million, at which time Sterling dropped his suit. Rather than remain in San Diego, a burgeoning locale where the Clippers were the only basketball show in town, Sterling transplanted them to LA where they were forced to compete with one of the most recognizable, marketable and lucrative sports brands in North America, then and now. In fact, I can think of no city in professional sports where one team has more consistently played second banana to the other than have the Clippers to the Lakers, winners of 16 NBA championships. Indeed under Sterling’s stewardship the Clippers fast replaced Cleveland as the Siberia of the NBA, not for its location obviously, but because of the organization’s perennial losing ways. For years, the Clippers were mired in mediocrity (I’m being nice) primarily due to poor draft day decisions, attrition within the coaching ranks, and a penchant for either signing free agents who were way past their prime or trading for players whose potential never seemed to actualize in a Clippers uniform. The Clippers organization was considered a place where careers go to die. Even now, with the Clippers winning and the Lakers losing, LA is still a Lakers town and probably always will be.

Sterling’s recent comments are perhaps news to the casual basketball fan, but not to those who follow the game closely. In the past, more than one player has made mention of Sterling’s racist tendencies.  Simply put, on the issue of race this ignoramus “outed” himself eons ago. Many agree that there is no place in the NBA or society for that matter, for comments like those. Although the socially conscious are well aware that there are millions of Donald Sterlings among us; they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. What is also clear to me and has been for a long time is that whenever a person reveals him or herself to be someone who goes about the business of preventing others from the pursuit of life, liberty or happiness based on race, gender, age or some other feature used to discriminate a consequence has to be exacted.

Public denouncements have been made by people such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, to name a few. There has, however, been no public outcry from the league’s thirty owners. Sure, we’ve heard from Mark Cuban and a few others, but there has been no avalanche of criticism from within those ranks.  Some have insisted that the other owners should pressure Sterling to sell the team. As stung as Cuban seemed to be by Sterling’s venom, Cuban treaded lightly when asked if Sterling should be ousted as owner of the Clippers. “That is a very slippery slope” said Cuban.  Michael Jordan was seemingly the first and to date only NBA owner to call out Sterling and insist that he be forced to sell the team.

Interestingly, when Sterling broached the topic of moving the team from San Diego to LA in 1984 many NBA owners dug in their heels and warned Sterling not to. Even the newly minted commissioner David Stern took issue with Sterling’s public defiance and fined him a significant amount of money for his brazenness. As of this writing new Commissioner, Adam Silver has issued a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban on Sterling preventing him, from participating in any way shape or form in the operations, business or otherwise of the Los Angeles Clippers, specifically and the NBA generally.  While Silver does not have the authority to force Sterling to sell the team he has indicated that his recommendation to the other owners will be just that.

While Commissioner Silver’s actions are a step in the right direction there is still work to be done. Moreover, his actions do not absolve others from taking appropriate action. If Sterling is to be completely deposed, the fans, players, sponsors and media personnel have to play an active role in his complete ousting. Indeed, there are those within upper Clippers management who worked for Sterling and therefore served as enablers. In other words, they co-signed on Sterling’s behavior, unwittingly or not.

One of the most effective weapons of the Black Freedom struggle has been the economic boycott. Systems, paradigms and regimes have been changed as a result of economic boycotts. It is one thing to complain about racial inequality and unfair treatment and quite another to do something about it. Fans, players, sponsors and media personnel have a responsibility to send a clear message to the Clippers organization that such lewd behavior will not be tolerated in the future. They need to make clear that the person picked to run the Clippers organization from this point forward will not be a protégé of Sterling for obvious reasons.

Some folk knowingly subject themselves to unfair treatment day in and day out. For more than twenty years, the Clippers’ general manager was a Black man who was paid no more than $250,000 annually while many of his counterparts around the league were paid in the millions. How does one account for this? Simple, many of us prefer to go along in order to get along. A few years ago Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that when it comes to matters of race we are a nation of cowards. Who can argue with that observation, although Holder is one to talk. After all, I’m still waiting for him to charge George Zimmerman with violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.

The Good Lord Bird and the Commitment to Racial Equality

By:   Hank Yancey

Ask any of your co-workers, friends or relatives what’s the last good book they’ve read and watch as they struggle to come up with an answer. Seems like fewer and fewer people are reading books these days unless it is of the Eric Jerome Dickey variety or someone like him. I have noticed though that some people like books on CD, which is ok, but not the same. If one is listening while driving one cannot readily reach for the dictionary, re-read the same line or underline important passages.  Recently, I read The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. This book was enjoyable, taxing and prompted several questions. Nothing taxes the brain like a good book. After all, reading is fundamental. Sometimes books end up raising more questions for me than they provide answers; such was the case here.

James McBride is a great American novelist, winner of the McArthur award. His works have been made into major motion pictures such as the 2008 Spike Lee joint Miracle at St. Anna. McBride’s latest work, the Good Lord Bird chronicles the life of the Caucasian abolitionist John Brown through the eyes of a young slave boy who passes as a girl. Although a fictional account this story gives one a realistic glimpse into the struggles encountered and risks taken in the name of freedom.

After reading this book one has no choice, but to recognize John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia as one of the era’s pivotal moments in the history of American slavery.  Brown was a man who tired of talk and demanded action. On more than one occasion Brown found himself trying to free slaves who had no desire to be freed. Sound familiar? The book reveals Brown as a deeply religious crusader whose faith propelled him to address slavery first in Kansas then in the south where slavery not only flourished, but became its primary source for generating revenue. Frederick Douglass once said of Brown: “His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine.”

Brown’s attempt at insurrection was one of many in the 18th and 19th century, nearly all of which were quelled after the insurrectionists were betrayed by one of their own. The more things change the more they stay the same. This reality prompts three lingering, but all-important questions: a) Do people really want the freedoms that they have been historically denied? b) Would most people be content to let others fight their battles for them? and c) Why is it that so many people turn their backs on the struggle for racial equality when in fact they themselves have benefitted greatly from the life altering sacrifices made by those who preceded them?

The answers to these questions will hopefully give us some insight into how far we’ve come or the degree to which we have devolved.

Exchanging White Sheets for Brooks Brothers Suits

By: RD

On March 9, 2014, Minnesota State Representative “Patrick Lee Garofalo” tweeted: “Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in the NBA could fold tomorrow and nobody would notice a difference with the possible exception of an increase in street-crime.” After his remarks were met with public outrage, Garofalo attempted to explain himself,


“I was talking about the NBA’s high arrest rate and that their punishment for positive drug tests are weaker than other leagues. No intent beyond that. The culture among many pro athletes that they are above the law is the problem, not people like me pointing that problem out.”
The very next day, Garofalo was compelled to render this humble, if not disingenuous, acknowledgment:

“In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to re-learn one of life’s lessons: whenever any of us are offering opinions, it is best to refer to people as individuals, not groups. Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized. The NBA has many examples of players and owners who are role models for our community and for our country. Those individuals did not deserve that criticism and I apologize. Additionally, it has been brought to my attention that I was mistaken and the NBA policy on drug enforcement is stronger than I previously believed. Again, I offer my sincere apologies for my comments.”
Too late. Garofalo’s mea culpa did little to extinguish the flames, which by that time resembled a west coast forest fire.

If that wasn’t enough five days later, and just 270 miles away in Wisconsin, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan lodged this sweeping – yet inaccurate indictment against African American males:


“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

As a former Economics major, how can Rep. Ryan grasp the intricacies of the labor market while failing to acknowledge the history of African Americans being consigned to an inferior place within it or locked out altogether? Surely, Ryan’s Irish ancestry should have afforded him an attuned perspective regarding racial discrimination and poor employment prospects. Sadly, Ryan appears incapable or unwilling to delineate between the oppression of his ancestors and the oppression and exploitation that fuels this purported “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular!”

Like founding father Thomas Jefferson, Ryan seems to be a tightly-wound mass of contradictions, especially where matters of race are concerned. Like his forefather Ryan too enjoyed the companionship of a Black Woman, all the while proffering less than accurate and unsavory statements about Black men. In fact, a contemporary of Jefferson, the famed Astronomer, Benjamin Banneker, did what many of us fail to do in instances like that—he called attention to Jefferson’s hypocritical ways- just as others have done with Ryan and will undoubtedly continue to do. Ryan’s curious position is reminiscent of a by-gone era…where men whose vitriolic hatred of Blacks was glaring, but were more than willing to have relations with the slave girl when the opportunity presented itself. Yes sireee, they may appear to be more refined, may even possess stellar academic credentials and they may have even frequent the finest men’s haberdasheries, but at the end of the day Garofalo and Ryan (and men like them) are nothing more than “Saltines” draped in Brooks Brothers Suits.

Hard to believe it’s been 30 years: Remembering Marvin Gaye

By: Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye. On April 1, 1984, one day before his 45th birthday Marvin Gaye met an untimely demise when he was shot by his father reportedly after Gaye had come to his mother’s defense during a squabble between the two parents. At the time of Gaye’s death, his career was experiencing a resurgence of sorts as two years earlier upon leaving Motown Records he released Midnight Love his seventeenth album, which went 3x Platinum in the U.S. and Gold in the United Kingdom. On that album was the Grammy Award-winning single Sexual Healing that announced to the world that Gaye was indeed back, back in a big way. If that wasn’t enough one year later Gaye was chosen to sing the National Anthem at the 1983 NBA ALL-STAR game in Los Angeles. Gaye was no novice at this as he had honored us in this capacity at least twice before, in 1979 in Las Vegas at the Larry Holmes v. Ernie Shavers II heavyweight title fight and in Game Four of the 1968 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. But 1983 was different. Wearing shades, the 6’4’’Gaye strolled out onto the floor of The Forum decked out in a double breasted suit as the color guard (comprised of four Marines) stood tall in the background while Gaye belted out perhaps the most soulful and pulsating rendition of the National Anthem to date as people shrieked, whistled and hollered with approval. Toward the end, Gaye had the audience, visibly moved by this time, clapping and stomping in lock-step with the beat. In 2008, Coach K at Duke University felt compelled to play it for the 2008 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team for inspiration.

For your viewing pleasure