Banned For Life

The NBA brought down swift and decisive judgment on Clippers owner Donald Sterling Tuesday. But what can we learn from Sterling's long history of racial and sexual discrimination?

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NBA Takes Decisive Action On Clippers Owner Donald Sterling After Racist Comments

The National Basketball Association has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million, and urged the league’s Board of Governors to force a sale of the team. The decision was announced this afternoon in a news conference by NBA commissioner Adam Silver after confirming that it was in fact Mr. Sterling’s voice making racist comments on an audio recording that surfaced Saturday.

The ban will prevent Sterling from attending any of his team’s games or participating in any operations or personnel decisions. The $2.5 million fine is the “maximum allowable under the NBA’s constitution,” Silver said (it is really just a drop in the bucket for the billionaire Sterling). And the decision to force the sale of the team can only be made with the approval of three-fourths of the league’s owners, whose support Silver “fully expect[s]” to get.

Reaction to the initial comments came swiftly from across the sports world and beyond. NBA legend Michael Jordan — who is also the only current African American principal owner in the league — was “obviously disgusted” and “completely outraged”. Major advertisers dropped their Clippers sponsorships. President Obama chimed in to say, “when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk.”

The league’s decision today has been met with similar speed and almost universal acclaim. Numerous players voiced their support for the commissioner, including League MVP LeBron James:

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The NBA Player’s Association, the union representing the players, held a press conference in which they universally praised the commissioner for showing “zero tolerance for institutional racism.” And other NBA owners, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who previously stated that efforts to remove Sterling from the league could be a “very very very slippery slope,” stood behind the decision “100%.”

But Donald Sterling has had a long history of charges of racial discrimination and sexual harrassment, which has caused some to ask why it has taken the NBA this long to act. Here is Travis Waldron at Think Progress:

Sterling’s racism is first and foremost an indictment of Sterling, and Silver should, on some level, be commended for taking strong action now. But as ESPN’s Bomani Jones so eloquently stated yesterday, the transgressions that went unnoticed and the implications of them are even bigger problems than Donald Sterling. And if we let this situation pass now without exploring why it took this long to hold him accountable and how we can address — or at least talk about — the litany of larger problems that Sterling both profited from and perpetuated, we will have accomplished far less from all of this than we could and should have.

BOTTOM LINE: Whether it comes from a rural rancher in Nevada or the owner of a major sports franchise in one of America’s biggest cities, racism clearly has no room in our culture. And given our country’s history, that’s progress. But we also must keep working to insist that discrimination — racial or otherwise — existing outside the spotlight is brought forward and treated with the same zero tolerance that we saw today.

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Advocacy Team