After years of addressing cries of racism that are phony, malicious and based on political hate, it is in a sense invigorating to find an example of actual, stone cold bigotry so that we can go straight to the consequences phase of the debate.
The repugnant tape of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling wheedling an ex-girlfriend to curtail her public associations with black people is a cleaner slam dunk than anyone will see in the current NBA playoffs. It is not Al Sharpton calling the Tea Party racist because he has no answer for them. It is not Democrats calling Paul Ryan racist for daring to suggest there may be a work ethic component to poverty. Those are the sad and false cries of racism that have actually damaged our societal radar for finding real racism, which is still out there, and occasionally put on display by pieces of work like Mr. Sterling, or less bluntly, Cliven Bundy.
But not all racism is alike. Mr. Bundy’s seemed couched not in visceral distaste for people of color, but rather a broad enlightenment gap that led him to wonder whether welfare-state inertia might be as bad as slavery. That verdict is in: it’s not.
But Mr. Sterling just doesn’t like black people under some circumstances, like snuggling up to his ex-squeeze on Instagram or being brought by her to “his games,” which apparently sparks phone calls he is not eager to field. One wonders how those phone calls go: “Donald, what the hell? Why are people bringing black folks to the Staples Center?”
Maybe it’s to watch the most popular professional sport in black America, played dominantly by black Americans. Just a theory. And now we get to see what happens as the NBA deals with a headache that is a nightmare for any league, or any organization of any kind– what to do when a powerful figure at the top displays views so poisonous that they earn condemnation from every corner of society.
Before we get to that, some hurdles. Some are asking about the fairness of weighing in on comments made in private. While it may be devious to trick someone into revealing bigotry on a secret recording, if the result is the discovery of a truth which sheds light on a current and unrepented sin, it brings us back to the very definition of character: what we do when no one is looking.
The other hiccup is the supposed need to confirm whether it is actually him on the tape. He seems to have quite a distinctive voice, which means it is either him or a Frank Caliendo-caliber impersonation. Mr. Sterling has actually helped us on this one, with his complete failure to speak one sentence: “That’s not me.” Absent that, we are permitted to plow forward with the assumption that we are indeed hearing his voice spewing those vile words.
Sterling has spoken in a fashion, through a statement from the team. Clippers President Andy Roeser is questioning the authenticity of the recording, reminding us that the woman egging him on in the recording is being sued by Sterling’s family for embezzling nearly two million dollars, and that she had pledged to “get even.”
Okay, fair enough. I remain open to any assertion that the tape is doctored and that those are not the words of the owner.
But no one is saying that. Even in their CYA statement, the Clippers engage in lawyerly diction: “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.”
That is a far cry from what he needs to say: “That is not me, this tape is phony, and I have never said such terrible things.” Instead we get the familiar sound of someone who has actually done something bad but wishes us to think it was some out-of-body event that does not represent his true self.
Roeser added that the team is investigating the matter, and that Sterling “feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.”
Please. If he did not say these things, he has no need to apologize. If he is apologizing, it means he said them. Time to take the next step in the flow chart: what to do about this guy?
The cries for his head are understandable and proper. But what form will that take? Should he be suspended? Forced to sell the team to a more enlightened soul? Drawn and quartered?
There is a reason the left attacks conservatism with bogus cries of racism: it is the worst thing someone can reveal, short of tendencies toward murder or rape. So now that we have a case of actual racism, the reaction to it will reflect what we think of it in 2014. I will suggest that cries of varying standards will soon arise. Reveal racism on tape, and you lose your NBA team. But engage in years of race-baiting and false cries of racism, and you get a TV show on MSNBC. Call political opponents “domestic terrorists” and you keep your gig as Senate Majority Leader. Try so brazenly to fix a civil rights lawsuit that it gets you impeached, and you rise to the apex of your party’s leadership.
So yes, Donald Sterling seems to deserve everything he is about to get. But the process of delivering it to him will be sloppy and filled with competing agendas that will complicate what should be a fairly simple matter.