President Barack Obama was correct when he said that when ignorant people want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything. You just let them talk.
In that sense, Donald Sterling, an octogenarian racist, is the easy part. If the recording of the Los Angeles Clippers owner is authentic, there are no other words to describe him than vile and despicable. If the recording, in which a man alleged to be Sterling urges his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, to stop taking pictures with Magic Johnson and other minorities and putting them on Instagram and to not invite them to Clippers games is authentic, there is no place for Sterling in professional sports.
When you go after Johnson the way Sterling did, the only magic that should follow is — poof! — Master Donald, you are history.
If it is true that Stiviano is facing a lawsuit led by Sterling's wife for allegedly embezzling $1.8 million in gifts, etc., and Stiviano is trying to get even with Sterling, should this factor into Sterling's future with the NBA?
Not a whit. We should not confuse any messy extenuating issues here. When you add the five extra minutes Deadspin got a hold of Sunday to what TMZ already had of the conversation, there are 15 minutes filled with arcane, racist views, allegedly uttered by Sterling. With a backlog of racial discrimination suits and other unseemly accusations on his resume, Sterling clearly didn't become the worst owner in pro sports overnight.
"The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation," Obama said in reference to the tapes. "That's still there, the vestiges of discrimination. We've made enormous strides, but you're going to continue to see this percolate up every so often."
That's the part that is so frustrating. And that's the part that brings me back to the recent national headlines made by Doug Glanville of ESPN and Hartford.
It is easy for us to look into Donald Sterling's ugly heart. He has opened it for us. What is much more difficult is knowing what African-Americans see in white America's hearts and in the intentions of our police? Do they see Sterling as an aberration? Or do they see millions of Donald Sterlings? I'd argue there is no fully evolved answer, yet I'd also argue it is an answer our society must pursue if we are to fully evolve.
When a cop stopped me last summer, racing in, lights flashing, he demanded to know where I was going. I told him to my house down the street. He demanded to know where I had been. When I stumbled naming the place where I'd dropped my son off to play hoops, I sensed dissatisfaction. At that moment, an unmarked car pulled up. The person told the policeman, "Not him." The cop told me I could go. I was left stunned and a little angry. I felt I deserved some kind of explanation. No lie, I went home and said, "If I was black, I'd be really pissed right now."
In one sense, my experience isn't entirely different than Glanville's — except for one important detail. Glanville is black. The former major leaguer-turned-ESPN analyst had every right to be upset when a West Hartford cop approached him in front of his Hartford West End home while he was shoveling snow, and without any introduction asked, "So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people's driveways around here?"
Glanville is to be applauded for keeping cool and not playing the always-regrettable "Don't you know who I am?" card. Yet his assertion in a piece for The Atlantic that went viral that he passed up going to his friends at ESPN or The New York Times — he writes excellent stuff for both — does ring a little hollow. In his long Atlantic essay, he found a national outlet without the messy consequences of rebuttal in a news story.
The result was some histrionic reactions around the country. People who didn't know a lick about West Hartford jumped to some extreme conclusions. Colin McEnroe, in my view, was the one who brought some needed sobriety when he pointed to the heavy national use of the term "racial profiling" as overblown.
The Courant news story had comments from West Hartford police, but not Glanville other than quoting from The Atlantic. My attempts to speak to Glanville have been graciously refused. West Hartford police Chief Tracey Gove wrote a commentary piece in The Courant on Sunday describing how a 911 call came in one night from a resident who said a man she had previously hired to shovel her driveway was banging on her door. She was frightened. A week later, Gove wrote, the man returned and a neighbor called the police, describing him as an African-American in his 40s. Officers are allowed to cross city lines in pursuit of a crime committed in their jurisdiction. Although my first thought was the cop was overzealous in chasing a guy for door-to-door solicitation, according to Gove, when they found him, it turned out he was a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history and was on probation for a larceny in West Hartford.
This changes the narrative to an extent. It does not change what Glanville felt in his heart when that cop approached him. Even Gove, in his piece, conceded that the officer didn't take time to explain himself.
I had a long conversation with a police officer I've known for 30 years, and his conclusion was essentially the same as Gove's about an explanation. He wasn't nearly as forgiving of the cop's demeanor as Gove was. He insisted cops, especially young guys, must understand that being respectful never comes back to bite you. Being rude can. Whatever angle the officer may have thought he was gaining by approaching Glanville the way he did, he lost tenfold in the aftermath.
For Glanville and his wife, a lawyer, to move into Hartford rather than run away from it is way cool. And it is because we still have a long road in the area of race relations, and with a great man like Doc Hurley gone, our city needs important voices in the athletic community. Glanville's publicist wrote that Glanville is exploring alignments with organizations that can help pave positive pathways in this area and would reach back when something has developed. That would be welcome. Interpersonal and interracial relationships are grown together, not apart, and they can be complicated.
In the meantime, with the additional recordings Sunday, our worst fears were easily realized. When the woman identified as Stiviano pointed out to the man alleged to be Sterling that his team was mostly black, the response was: "I support them and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Who makes the game? Do I make the game or do they make the game?"
Sterling is a guy accused of bringing women guests into the locker room and telling them to "look at those beautiful black bodies." Sterling will hire blacks like Chris Paul to play. Sterling will hire blacks like Doc Rivers to coach. He will have a half-black, half-Mexican such as Stiviano as his girlfriend. What he won't do is treat them as equal human beings. It is that despicable boss-man mentality that haunts us as a society.
The Clippers players were right not to boycott their playoff game Sunday, and they were right to stage a silent protest. They should play for themselves. They've also been thrust into a horrible position. It isn't a surprise that they were crushed by the Warriors.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern allowed Sterling to go on for too long. Now he is new commissioner Adam Silver's mess. Although it remains to be seen how far Silver's powers extend, he certainly can invoke language that Sterling has badly damaged the welfare of the NBA. There is precedent in baseball. Marge Schott was banned the entire 1993 season for her racist ways. I'd submit that his suspension should start at twice as long. His franchise, which he paid $12 million for in 1981, is estimated to be worth $570 million by Forbes. He's worth $1.9 billion. The fine can't be high enough.
A handful of owners already have expressed their disgust with Sterling. The most powerful message that can be sent is for all his peers, exclusively rich, almost exclusively white, to band together and tell Sterling to get lost. America would be a better place for it.