Thursday, May 1, 2014

The L.A. Clippers' Deliverance

Yesterday was a day of true schadenfreude, an exulting in another's misery. David Silver banned Las Angeles  David Sterling from the National Basketball Association. Banned Sterling from attending any function having anything to do with the L.A. Clippers. He has is forbidden to attend, let alone participate in owners meetings. He is no longer an owner of an NBA team.

David Silver, the new NBA Commissioner faced his first big test. And when he had to act, he acted decisively. The bigoted and least liked owner in the NBA was brought down by racist language directed at blacks on tapes in a secretly recorded conversation with his girlfriend. Silver really had no other choice. In his first real test as commissioner he was forced to come off as a commissioner in another sport: baseball.

The first commissioner of baseball was Kennesaw Mountain Landis, hired and made all powerful by the owners to get baseball under control. His big test was the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. When about eight Chicago White Sox, were found guilty of trying to throw the 1919 World Series, Landis had them all thrown out of baseball...for life. The difference between Landis' scandal and Silver's dilemma was the White Sox all cut fairly sympathetic figures in retrospect. Not so with Sterling.

I'm in favor of Silver's decision because it's about race and its about the human experience of being humiliation. Let's face it, neither Doc Rivers or any of his players will be done irreparable harm because they work for a racist. Every player on the team is free to bail when their contract is up. But there is something terribly humiliation about getting your paycheck from someone who hates you because of who you are. Nearly everyone black (and brown, and yellow, for that matter), knows what its like to get your daily bread from someone who thinks you are less than them and has no trouble saying it.

I know, I know, it's not like there aren't owners out there who don't feel the same way. But at least they don't parade women through the locker room and invite them to look at his 'magnificent black beasts'. Nor do they patriarchically consider the men whom he pays people who he feeds and clothes. There's something darker and sinister about that. Something that speaks to something darker about stern that men, and women where applicable, shouldn't have to deal with.

Sterling is an 'owner' without a team because he shared privately what he felt aut the players on the team: he didn't respect them, as men, as human beings. He didn't care about them anymore than he cared about the tenants in his run down apartment buildings, or the employees he was forced to pay by the government because he didn't respect them enough to treat them as human beings.

Anyone who thinks that this absolves the NBA from complicity in putting up with Sterling's ownership, or that this does something to eradicate racism in professional sports, isn't thinking right about this. It won't, anymore than Kennesaw Mountain Landis' judgement kept gambling out of sports. Anyone believing that is naive or sarcastic.

In the end actions like the one taken by Silver are about acknowledgement. Acknowledgement that there is something twisted about the American character that we have done to ourselves and we have to take conscious, costly acts to correct them. And if we have to take such actions 50 times, we have to correct them each time. America's to great a country to allow institutionalized racism and disrespect to become something much more evil.

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