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WTF Wednesday: The NBA and the Racist Boys’ Club

Kelsey Braithwaite

This past Saturday, an important clip was made public on TMZ. The audio captured Los Angeles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling telling his sweetheart, V. Stiviano, that he does not want her “broadcasting” her associations with minorities, specifically black people. For context, Stiviano is of black and Mexican decent. 

I’ll let that fester.

Sterling’s reaction was triggered by someone telling him about a picture Stiviano posted of herself and Magic Johnson on Instagram (which has now been removed). The NBA’s reaction to the tape was swift.

Yesterday afternoon, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a packed press conference where he banned Sterling “for life from any association with the Clippers’ organization or the NBA.” Silver then fined Sterling for $2.5 million, “the maximum allowed under the NBA constitution”, promised to donate the money to anti-discrimination and tolerance organizations, and is pushing Sterling to sell the team. He needs three-quarters of owners’ votes to boot out Sterling. Silver expects full support.

This is an important step that some media outlets did not think Silver would make. But it may not be a step against racism. Instead it seems like a need to preserve image and ensure players don’t boycott games. Otherwise, if this were solely about equality, Sterling would have been gone long ago. In 2009, for instance, Sterling paid more than Silver has fined him to settle trouble for discriminating against black and Hispanic people in his own L.A. apartment buildings. Deadspin has collected an entire list that dates back to 1983 of Sterling’s past disgusting and racist beliefs and actions.

The public response has varied.

Over the past few days, celebrities, NBA players, NBA coaches, and former players expressed their disappointment on social media. Some even urged fans not to come out to the games. Warriors coach Mark Jackson and comedian and actor Kevin Hart explained that Sterling has to be hit where his money grows.

On the flip side, musician Pharrell recently said there is a “new black” that should not blame non-people of colour for their ignorance . He told Oprah, “the New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues…”

I wonder how Pharrell feels about Sterling. I wonder if he knows that the NBA was aware of his ignorance long before Saturday.

People like Pharrell who may be shocked that racism is alive and well need to be reminded that not all racism looks like Sterling’s. Racism comes in all forms: insensitive “innocent jokes,” remarks about stereotypes, an innocent opposition to dating a specific race. All of it—and more.

And unless we are open to admitting personal ignorance and even privilege, we could end up hurting fellow humans as much as Sterling has his team.

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