Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Donald Sterling ban provides good result, but not the end

The announcement was as stunning as it was swift.

Mere days after a recording surfaced of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling spewing hateful comments toward African-Americans, Sterling was banned for life by the NBA.

Banned for life. Wow.

Good for the NBA. Good for new commissioner Adam Silver, who swung his sword mightily and quickly, ridding the league of a despicable human being. Good that it was announced for all of us to see that the venomous ramblings of an 80-year-old bigot will not be tolerated.

Still, today is no reason to celebrate.

Make no mistake, Silver did the right thing.

He went as far as he could and needed to go, and much further than many thought he would. With anger and hurt in his voice, Silver had one of the finest moments in the history of sports commissioners.

He stood before the world and said that just because you have gobs of money, that just because you might come from an older generation of outdated and often tolerated prejudices, that just because you say something in the privacy of your own home, it doesn't make it okay to possess the views of a Southern plantation owner from the 1800s.

Just three months into his new job, Silver moved at warp speed to banish an owner who probably should have been kicked out of the NBA years ago for all of his misogynistic actions and racist views.

In the end, the right thing happened. Sterling is gone. Soon he will be forced to sell his team. Then he will live the rest of his life buried in secluded shame.

That's how it should be.

This is a pivotal moment. Not only for Silver. Not only for the NBA. But in the continuing battle for civil rights.

But let's hold the applause, please. This is far from over.

Perhaps you cheered when you heard Silver had shoved Sterling out of the league for good. Maybe you felt a sense of pride when you realized that public outrage led the NBA to act so harshly. Maybe you feel a little better today knowing that most of us share the belief that racial intolerance cannot be tolerated.

And there is nothing wrong with feeling good that justice is being done and this particular brush fire of racism is being stomped out.

But let's not confuse things. This isn't Dr. King saying he has a dream. This isn't Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.

Today is not the time to stand up and proudly declare that racism is a thing of the past in this country.

In fact, it's a reminder that it still exists.

You think Sterling woke up last week and, for the first time, decided to warm up for a KKK tryout? Do you think he's the only owner in sports who, privately, thinks like this? Don't you wonder what else we might hear if we secretly recorded the private conversations of every other NBA owner?

Of every sports owner?

Of every person?

These days, racism doesn't come in the form of burning crosses, separate water fountains and nooses hanging over trees.

Instead, it comes in the form of an NBA owner telling his mistress to not bring African-Americans to his games or to post photos of them on Instagram. It comes in the drunken rage of an NFL player at a concert looking for a fight and dropping the n-word. It comes in the form of those defending Sterling's words just because the First Amendment says we can't throw him in jail.

These forms of racism are more subtle than white hoods, but are very much as real and dangerous and disgusting.

Hate is hate, no matter what form it comes in.

It also will come in the form of angry emails in reaction to this column.

Yes, we have come far. But we still have so far to go and I worry that Tuesday will soon be forgotten.

Here is now my fear: Sterling goes away, the NBA goes back to work, the fans return to cheering dunks and we all move on as if this whole thing never happened. Or, worse yet, we all pat ourselves on the back like we've accomplished something.

Yes, Sterling is gone and that is good. But this is just one chapter in a very ugly book that is far from being completed.

A lot of good was done Tuesday.

Silver established himself as the type of person you want to lead the NBA. Clippers players and fans got their team back. They can, once again, proudly cheer and wear the Clippers colors.

Best of all, the NBA is finally rid of an owner who has been as deplorable as he has been lousy and, along the way, let it be known that there are consequences for speech and views steeped in hate and bias.

Maybe — hopefully — this will make many of us reexamine our beliefs and our thoughts, especially those we never share, those we hold deep inside.

Tuesday was a good day in the fight against hate and intolerance and racism.

But it wasn't the final day.

Until then, let's put our celebration on hold.

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Published: 04/23/18