I can’t stop thinking about this Donald Sterling fiasco. I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone. As someone who is pretty critical of the media’s obsession with the story of the day (Malaysia Airlines, Chris Christie’s bridge scandal, Hillary Clinton’s brain damage), this one feels different to me. It is different.
Sports is always a great barometer of our culture, both good and bad. The Michael Sam story plays so much differently than it would have just a few years ago. It’s a reflection of our growing tolerance of the LGBT community in America. Lance Armstrong’s story exposed our willingness to look the other way in our search for heroes, and our intolerance for them once they fall from grace. Super Bowl ads for Cheerios (Interracial Family) and Coca-Cola (America The Beautiful) reflect the growing diversity of our country and our economy. So first and foremost, Sterling’s story is a reflection of how far we have come in our intolerance for bigotry.
My dad and I had Clippers seats for over 10 years. We went to the Sports Arena when it was emptier than a minor league baseball stadium. And my dad used to curse him from the other side of the court. “I hate that cheap SOB” he would say. I attended a few of the white parties, which were incredibly awkward and pretentious, and heard the awful stories about how Sterling hired his cocktail waitresses. Like many in this town and in this business, I’ve heard other stories. Lots of them. I imagine plenty will be coming out in the upcoming weeks and months. So to most of us in Clipperland, this is not a surprise at all.
But I also keep thinking about the irony of the lynch mob we’ve become. From one end of the bigotry spectrum to the other, the lynch mob is alive and well. I’m not saying Donald didn’t ask for this, or that he doesn’t deserve it. But I’m troubled by how quickly we all call for someone’s head, without at least some acknowledgement of the fact that some of our rage is self-serving. It feels good to label yourself an anti-racist. If “I’m no racist” T-shirts were in style, wouldn’t most of us be wearing them on casual Friday? I’m not judging here. And I’m not defending the Donald. Sterling seems to have all of this coming. And the league, which is by far the most progressive pro sports league in the US, ought to fight with every weapon in it’s arsenal to rid any owner that damages the league’s integrity in the eyes of fans and sponsors. But I find it really interesting that we’re practically celebrating all of this. And I think we’re doing it, at least in part, to make us feel good about ourselves.
Who knows what happens now. It’s clear that this won’t get resolved anytime soon. Doc Rivers will have to do some soul searching about going into next season with Sterling as owner. Apparently, California state law allows employees to nullify contracts when they are in a hostile work environment. So players will have decisions to make as well. Players who have made millions, and sense an opportunity to claim a role in the history books (think Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics), will probably give serious consideration to their options. Sponsors may not be willing to come back to the club while this is all pending. Season ticket holders have a voice too.
The bottom line is that no one knows how it will play out. As one of the biggest sports stories since Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods went sideways, it’s a story that I’ll remain completely addicted to following. I hope for all of us, as it’s outcome will reflect much about our culture, that the good guys win in the end.