Calling the Shots: Sterling’s racism causes controversy


Clippers owner Donald Sterling at a home game during the 2013-2014 NBA season. A decision is pending on what punishment Sterling will receive for the released recordings of his racist comments.

Seth Barshay, Sports Editor

It is widely believed that sports is one of the only realms free of racism and prejudice.  Take as proof the fact that over seventy percent of players in the NBA are African American.  Despite what seems to be a nondiscriminatory potential for success in professional athletics, one of the largest racism scandals in recent memory has struck the NBA.  A recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was released by TMZ with Sterling showing obvious racism in his comments.

Sterling, now the longest tenured living NBA team owner after the death of longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, chastised his (now ex) girlfriend about associating with African Americans publicly.  He even called out Hall of Fame Lakers point guard Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, saying that his girlfriend shouldn’t take photos with them.

Ironically, the L.A. chapter of the NAACP was set to give Sterling his second lifetime achievement award next month.  They have since decided otherwise.

Almost instantly after the recording’s  release, the sports world was in an uproar, shocked that an owner of an NBA team on which the coach and 12 of the 14 players are African American could be so racist.

Johnson vowed to never go to a Clipper game as long as Sterling is still owner.  LeBron James, widely believed to be the best player in basketball, said that there is no place in the league for Sterling.  Both the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers wore black socks during their playoff game the next day as a symbol of their support for black players.

Several major sponsors of the Clippers, including Kia Motors America, Red Bull, and State Farm Insurance, have pulled their support of the franchise.

Perhaps the most significant protest was that of the Clippers players.  After the recording was released, they had a players-only meeting to debate whether or not to boycott their upcoming playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.  They decided to play in the game, but upon stepping foot onto the court of Oracle Arena, each player ceremoniously removed his warmup shirt, tossed it onto center court, and wore a blank shirt before the game.  The scandal proved to be too large of a distraction for the team as they fell to the Warriors and evened the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

Sterling’s racism could also have affected Clippers Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers.  Rivers’ home was burnt down several years ago by a racist arsonist.  Sterling traded a first round pick to Boston so that Rivers could coach in Los Angeles and is paying him millions of dollars annually, but Rivers has said that he does not know if he will return after this season.

An event like this in this day and age is unacceptable.  The fact that Sterling is even allowed to own the Clippers due to his checkered past is ridiculous.  As a property owner, he is among the largest housing discriminators in U.S.  history, saying that he didn’t like renting to African Americans because they “smell and attract vermin” and that Hispanic tenants “smoke, drink and just hang around the building.”

Many responders to the scandal think, rightfully so, that Sterling should be forced to sell the team.  However, newly appointed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated in a press conference that Sterling would be awarded due process until a further  investigation is conducted.

As long as Sterling owns the team, it will always be connected to this racism and ignorance.  If he is forced to sell the team, it would likely be best for the team and for sports in general.  Coincidentally, Johnson has shown interest in purchasing the team.