You probably heard that NBA owner Donald Sterling made some racist comments recently. People are all up in arms. Everybody is weighing in to condemn this is no uncertain terms. And it should be condemned in no uncertain terms. It was an unconscionable statement with no place in civil society.
On Tuesday, the NBA responded with a life-time ban from anything NBA related, a $2.5 million fine, and will apparently try to force him to sell the team.
Here’s my take: this was easy. Too easy. Good, but easy.
It takes no great moral courage to sound off on this one. This was a soft lob right down the middle. You don’t have to be Miguel Cabrera to drive this somewhere long and deep.
It’s easy because it won’t require you to change anything in your life. You can say your piece, and go right on back to the way things are.
The problem is exactly that: It’s easy. This was a politically incorrect thing to say, and an easy target for response. When it comes to real issues, few are willing to take a similar stand. Why? Because it’s harder. As the old saying goes, what’s good for people isn’t good for politics.
I don’t know that that’s an old saying. In fact, I may have just made it up. But it’s true.
President Obama weighed in on Sterling and said it was bad. Good for him.
This is the same guy who, just a year ago, couldn’t muster up a word about a guy who murdered hundreds, maybe thousands, of black people.
Apparently telling your girlfriend you don’t want her being seen with black people is horrible.
Killing black people? Not so much.
Why? Because Kermit Gosnell was an abortion doctor. And one thing worse than killing little black babies is making it so little black babies can’t be killed.
Or saying you don’t want your girlfriend taking pictures with black men.
You see, Sterling was a old rich white guy with a young girlfriend who could work a recording device. Gosnell was an abortion doctor who killed babies for decades. Those two things aren’t equal. One deserves vicious tirades and substantial punishment. The other is painted as an anomaly and quietly goes to trial in hopes that the outcome doesn’t damage women’s abortion rights.
In another incredibly brave example of courage and social consciousness, word comes that UCLA turned down a $3 million grant for kidney research because it came from the Donald Sterling Foundation.
Imagine that conversation: “Yes, we were close to finding a cure for you, but the money that would have helped was offered by a man who man who didn’t want his mistress-girlfriend posting pictures with black guys, and it was important for us to make a social statement. But don’t worry, we still have our dialysis machine, and we will send flowers to your funeral.”
I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of race, economics, community, education, and all the related things, so I won’t pontificate on that. You probably don’t understand either, and you shouldn’t pontificate either.
I won’t pretend to think I can change the world. You can’t either.
Here’s what you may not know. The NBA didn’t learn anything new this week. Sterling didn’t change his views last weekend. This has been known about Sterling for years and years. And no one did anything. Stern sat on his hands while his wallet and the NBA’s wallet got exponentially fatter.
Now, new NBA commish Adam Silver doles out lifetime ban to Sterling. Whoopeee!!! He’s eighty-one years old. Eighty-one. 81. Yes, they gave a lifetime ban to an 81-year old. What courage. What a statement.
Oh yes, and they are going to force him to sell his team. Or at least try to force him. You know what that means? It means that Sterling’s $12.5 million purchase in 1981 will probably net him somewhere north of $750 millions. I don’t even know what the rate of return is on that, but please, punish me with such force.
NBA, you want to make a difference in race issues? Don’t make symbolic gestures. I am not saying reinstate Sterling. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Seriously. It doesn’t. No one’s life is changed or not changed by this.
If you want to make a difference, get serious about decimated family structures in urban areas. Start by leading the charge to make sure every black baby actually gets born rather than being eradicated from its mother’s body like some sort of cancer.
Figure out a way to help men take responsibility for their children. Start by getting serious about the children your players have with multiple women. $10K a month in child support is no substitute for dad loving mom, and being around the house, teaching their little boys to be men, and teaching their little girls to be women. And realize that a very large number of black children are growing up without active fathers. That’s far worse than Donald Sterling spouting off in private.
Do something about education. No, I don’t mean send a player to read a book for thirty minutes to a class in some upscale school district for a photo op. I mean figure out a way to make a meaningful difference in kids’ lives so that they can learn the basics of life, and have a shot at moving out of the urban ghetto they have grown up in.
Do something about black employment. I know your own employ is more than 75% black, but what how about start some urban initiatives for places where half that percentage are chronically unemployed. Do something about the situation where many people don’t look for jobs because they actually lose when they find one.
Be creative. Do something substantive. Take some of those billions you make and start addressing real racial problems.
By all means, keep Sterling out of the NBA for life. Take his $2.5 mill fine and spend it on some charitable organization addressing race. Sell the Clippers to a minority group led by Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, or whoever.
But don’t think you killed the big one because it took you thirty years to make a non-meaningful social statement that won’t actually change anything.
And don’t sit on your laurels and think it was anything other than a non-meaningful social statement.
The real work starts now. So get busy.