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Racist views exile Sterling from the NBA

By Jesse Washington AP National Writer | 5/2/2014, 3:25 p.m.
Donald Sterling is being exiled for racist views shared in private.
BANNED! Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Starling. AP photo.

Donald Sterling is being exiled for racist views shared in private.

America cherishes its freedom of thought and speech. But Sterling’s comments were so nakedly bigoted that demands intensified for the Los Angeles Clippers owner to pay a heavy price for his views, even though they were taped during a private conversation with his girlfriend.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver heeded the demands and delivered one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports: a lifetime ban from the league and a $2.5 million fine. Despite Sterling’s donations to black causes and the rich contract he gave the game’s top black coach, Silver also promised to convince owners to force a sale of the Clippers over the 80-year-old Sterling’s "hateful’’ demands for his 31-year-old girlfriend not to broadcast her association with black people.

"He has a right to his beliefs, to his thoughts. He has a right to free speech. He doesn’t have a right to be an owner of an NBA franchise,’’ said Dr. Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several professional teams.

"We can’t remove racism from American society any more than we can remove murder,’’ Edwards said. "But just because we can’t remove it, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight it.’’

Wayne Embry fought racism for decades, by refusing to let it defeat him. Drafted into the NBA in 1958, when quotas limited the number of black players, he was the only African-American on the Cincinnati Royals, and later became the NBA’s first black general manager. He wrote the book ‘’Inside Game: Race, Power and Politics in the NBA.’’

He thinks that Sterling’s punishment is appropriate, and sends a powerful statement: "Such ignorance cannot and will not be tolerated.’’

"Not just in the NBA,’’ said Embry, who now works in the Toronto Raptors’ front office, "but it’s an important message to send throughout society.’’

"Sterling’s mentality sets us back 150 years,’’ Embry continued. ‘’We are not going back there. So yes, action needed to be taken. It sends a clear message that as a league, and as a society for a diverse people, we are not going back there.’’

A variety of factors converged to extend the fight against racism into the heart and mind of Donald Sterling.

Racism is often deniable these days, because it has become more subtle and complex than the blatant oppression of the past, and because race is a common political tool. So when Sterling provided such a rare and obvious example of bigotry, it sparked a sort of feeding frenzy.

"In general, people in society tend to be very dismissive of claims of racism unless it is really overt. Short of a Klan rally, people generally won’t accept charges of racism,’’ said Todd Boyd, a USC professor who studies race and sports and is author of the NBA book ‘’Young, Black, Rich and Famous.’’

Boyd noted that Sterling had escaped basically unscathed despite years of racial missteps. The billionaire had paid a $2.76 million settlement to resolve a federal lawsuit accusing him of systematically excluding blacks and Hispanics from his rental properties. A wrongful termination lawsuit by general manager Elgin Baylor described various slurs and slights.