A taped sound byte that has yet to be authenticated captures a not-too-surpising dark side of L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. The remarks are blatantly racist and vile, especially coming from a team owner in a sport dominated by black males.
Before the release of that tape last week, the names Magic Johnson and Lebron James were much more closely associated with basketball than the name, Donald Sterling. It remains to be seen whether Sterling's name will remain more closely attached to the sport of basketball or to what few seem willing to recognize as the state of deteriorating race relations in America.
In case you missed it, the 80-year old lawyer, real estate magnate and NBA team owner was allegedly captured on tape telling his girlfriend, Vivian Stiviano not to bring black people to his basketball games. He also admonished Ms. Stiviano not to post pictures of herself with Magic Johnson on Instagram. The 15-minute audio clip is supposedly only a portion of a one-hour recording.
Being a huge fan (of Johnson, not Sterling), I found his remarks about Magic Johnson incredible and infuriating.
Ms. Stiviano, who appears to be about 50 years younger than Sterling is, herself the product of a bi-racial union. Her parentage is reportedly black and Hispanic. Sterling's estranged wife (of 57 years), Rochelle is suing Stiviano for half of the $2.5 Million Sterling says that Stiviano squeezed out of the octogenarian lothario, claiming that it was community property.
Oh, to live and die in L.A..
To be sure, nothing about Donald Tokowitz Sterling says "nice guy". Born in Chicago, his parents transplanted their family to the Left Coast when he was only two. So, there's some Chicago connection, but not enough to make us hang our heads in shame.
Sterling's parents, Susan and Mickey Tokowitz were Jewish immigrants, which causes this writer some personal anguish. He changed his last name to Sterling when he was a 23-year old law student supporting himself as a furniture salesman. Sadly, his chosen last name describes neither his character nor his reputation.
As a landlord, Sterling was known to be indifferent to the conditions of his properties. He was sued in 2010 for a fire that destroyed one of his apartment buildings. Former West Wing star, Kim Webster said in her suit that Sterling knew of the electrical problems in the building but chose to do nothing.
Sterling has been sued by tenants, employees and even the Justice Department for various forms of discrimination. We get it, he's a bigot. Or a racist or whatever. Here, in America, however that's his right.
Sterling was not appearing on Hannity when he launched his repugnant rant. He wasn't on the Today show or knowingly talking to reporters. Apparently, he was in a private setting where he would probably have some expectation of privacy. Remember, he was born long before the appearance of cell phones. His first phone call was probably made on a rotary dial phone-if you know what that is.
He may even have had to put one part of the phone to his ear and shout into the other part for Sarah-the operator-to get Doc Epstein on the line.
As a team owner, Sterling has a contractual relationship with the NBA. Back in the 80's he was fined $10,000 for saying (publicly) that he would let his team slip into last place for a strong draft pick. It remains to be seen what the NBA thinks about his latest (private) remarks.
Team owners also have an adhoc relationship with the public, because tax dollars often fund their stadiums. Sterling, as the longest running team owner in the league has shown little regard for that tenuous pact.
I often quote fictitious character, President Andrew Shepard (played by Michael Douglas in the 1995 film, "The American President") when he talks about freedom of speech here in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.
In a moving, 2-minute speech, Shepard (Douglas) says, in part, "Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."
Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who thinks it's OK to let his cattle graze on land that isn't his, land that is owned by the federal government was last month's darling of the GOP. However, following some mumbled, antediluvian, racist remarks, even the rightest of the Right distanced themselves from Bundy.
Ironically, they were OK with his illegal cattle grazing, but sensitive to his insensitivity.
Still in all, his remarks, like Sterling's were not illegal. If I had a button-like Staple's "Easy Button"-that I could press and make all these idiots disappear, I would press it in a heartbeat.
I shudder, though when we start talking about limits on what private citizens can say, publicly or privately. Like pornography, we can usually recognize hate speech when we hear it. The problem is how we treat it. That slope can be solid ice.
Saudi Arabia recently declared atheism-or any "theism" not supportive of Islam-to be blasphemy. While you and I may blaspheme to our heathen heart's content, it's a capital crime in Saudi Arabia.
Basketball, baseball, football and yes, even soccer are great spectator sports. Team ownership, though is a business, like Budweiser, Pepsi, General Motors and Sears. Ideally, we would like those businesses to be fair and impartial to their employees and their customers. In many instances, we have laws and guidelines to help keep those companies honest in their relations with those folks.
Is it possible, though to legislate the mindset of business owners and, if possible, is it the right thing thing to do?
First and foremost, it may be a task for the 22nd Century to get into and read the minds of business owners or anyone else, for that matter. There's really no way to tell what's in the hearts and minds of those around us.
Men, can I get an "Amen" to that?
It's also not entirely reliable to judge anyone's true feelings by what they say, especially when it involves affairs of the heart. We all say things we don't really mean just to poke and prod our significant others.
When I said "we all", I really meant "you all".
It's true that Donald Tokowitz Sterling's aging body of work leaves no doubt as to his feelings about blacks, Hispanics, poor people, women, etc. It's pretty clear that he gives a shit about no one but himself and holds everyone else in disdain.
Now that I think about it, Sterling sounds like about half of my Christmas mailing list. That may not be a bad thing, considering the constantly rising cost of postage.
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