The story of an egregious racist: in re Donald Sterling

I’m assuming everyone, even non-basketball fans, has heard of the incident involving Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In case you missed it, or if you need to review them, here are the links which cover not only the most recent development, but further insight into Mr. Sterling’s history:

Mr. Sterling’s history as a businessman, both as an NBA team owner and otherwise, has been peppered with several “black mark” incidents of discrimination. Perhaps the most egregious of them was what he said to Rollie Massimino way back in 1983: “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.” To truly understand this quote, though, it should be seen in context. From the Jeff Pearlman article:

Anyhow, according to [Paul] Phipps [the LA Clippers’ GM at the time], Massimino boarded the jet, and when he landed in Los Angeles he exited the walkway and spotted Sterling. “They met,” said Phipps, “and between 3 and 4 in the morning my phone rings.” It was an irate Massimino. “I’m sorry,” he told Phipps, “but I’d never work for that son of a bitch. Ever.” “Here’s this guy,” Massimino said, “and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.’” Massimino told Phipps he began screaming at Sterling and swore he’d rather die than become coach of the Clippers. “That,” said Phipps, “was life with Donald Sterling.”

Unfortunately, as state previously, this was in 1983, so it would have been much more difficult for Rollie to have recorded this conversation than it would be today even if he had had the foresight to do so. However, I honestly don’t think either Paul or Rollie have any reason to wantonly defame Mr. Sterling in a tortious manner (i.e. tell a complete lie, especially one which could easily result in a lawsuit). So I’m going to assume the story is more or less true the way it was told. The reason almost nobody heard about it is that no media outlet would report this without running a very real risk of getting sued and the almost unending stream of problems (bad PR, losing advertisers, otherwise great employees quitting) that comes with such a high-profile lawsuit. It’s all hearsay, and it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

That said, especially in light of things that have happened since, I believe it. In 2002, Mr. Sterling’s comments to the manager of an apartment included this rather nasty line, regarding a female tenant by the name of Kandynce Jones: “I am not going to do that [reimburse a female tenant for damage caused by a defective refrigerator]. Just evict the bitch.” Mr. Sterling also asked regarding Kandynce: “Is she one of those black people that stink?”

This is consistent with statements Mr. Sterling made to the same manager when he was buying the property previously: “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean, [a]nd it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. So we have to get them out of here.” And it’s also consistent with this prejudicial statement Mr. Sterling made to another property manager: “I like Korean employees and I like Korean tenants… I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent…so I’m going to keep buying in Koreatown.” In fact at one point, Mr. Sterling even changed the name of a complex to “Korean World Towers” and had a banner printed entirely in Korean hung on the building. He also had Korean-born armed guards who were ordered to be hostile to people not of Korean origin. But it gets even worse, per this tidbit from the ESPN: The Magazine article:

When it comes to female subordinates in his real estate business, Sterling shows a distinct racial preference. In 2003 he had 74 white employees, four Latinos, zero blacks and 30 Asians, 26 of them women, according to his Equal Employment Opportunity filings with the state of California. (The numbers are similar for the other years in which Sterling has been charged with racial discrimination.)

Fast forward to 2006 August. The US Department of Justice sued Mr. Sterling for housing discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Despite attempts to obstruct the legal process  (which were noticed and commented on by Judge Dale S. Fischer during the settlement) Mr. Sterling eventually settled the suit for a fine of $2.73 million, plus attorney’s fees and costs in the total of $4,923,554.75. In 2009, Mr. Sterling was sued by Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination, noting that “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22 million contract” while Elgin’s salary was frozen at $350,000 since 2003. In the lawsuit, Elgin claims Mr. Sterling said he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.”

And Mr. Sterling’s conduct goes beyond racism, to just plain anti-social conduct in general. At one point, disclosed in a New York Post interview from 2012, Baron Davis talks about when he played for the Clippers (between 2008 and 2011) and was heckled by Mr. Sterling during practice. Mr. Sterling would “cuss at [Baron] and call him an idiot.” Do any other NBA owners do lame crap to their players like this? I doubt it.

And now, fast forward to 2014 April. Mr. Sterling is caught on tape telling his mistress not to bring “black people to his games.” This comment, and other comments like it in the audio TMZ published, got him a lifetime ban from NBA professional basketball and a $2.5 million fine as announced this past Tuesday. It also got several corporate sponsors of LA Clippers to drop the team like a hot potato.

Officially, according to the press conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only banning Mr. Sterling due to the most recent incident. In fact the commissioner specifically said “I cannot speak to past actions” regarding the fact that little, if anything, was done during the tenure of David Stern as NBA commissioner. Unofficially, though, it’s quite possible that Mr. Sterling’s checkered past regarding discrimination incidents played at least a supporting role.

I don’t see the logic in Mr. Sterling continuing to own and make money off of a team in a league where the majority of players are men of color and which is a rather large part of hip-hop culture, when clearly he has a problem with both people of color and Latinos (the two groups which started hip-hop culture in the 1970s). Who in their right mind just drops the N-bomb like that, “tanked” or not, when talking to a stranger? Just how hypocritical is it to say “blacks… smell [and] are not clean” on one hand, and make money hand over fist off of the efforts of black people on the other?

I have been a basketball fan on and off over the past decade or so (both NBA and WNBA; I still miss the Houston Comets). I recognize the NBA is connected strongly to hip-hop culture, more so than any other sport or even other basketball leagues such as the WNBA. While I’m not a fan of hip-hop culture, I am tolerant of it and realize that it is what it is; I can accept that hip-hop culture is a part of the NBA fan culture (much like country music and the NASCAR fan culture). I’m also much more impressed by successful three-point shots (which are quite capable of changing a game’s outcome) than I am impressed by a slam dunk (which will only ever score two points, just like any other basket made inside the arc). I’m not a typical NBA fan by any means, but I have always been against discrimination, particularly flagrant and persistent racism of the variety seen here.

Mr. Sterling, quite honestly, you are the one who stinks with your downright putrid and vile racism. You may be in Los Angeles, but I can smell it all the way over here in Houston, Texas, and I’m sure others can smell it as far away as New York City or for that matter, just about anywhere in the world. Honestly, I think it is a damn shame that under the NBA constitution and bylaws, Commissioner Silver could only fine you $2.5 million, because you’re getting off way too easy given the trivial portion of your wealth that $2.5 million represents. You actually deserve to be fined the entire value of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise–actually more than that, you deserve to lose all the profit you’ve made from them since the day in 1983 when you crossed the line and referred to your players using the most offensive slur possible for people of color. Indeed, the absolutely demonic racism and bigotry you expressed in a conversation you knew was being recorded has actually harmed your business interests as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Given this, it defies any sense of logic that you would want to continue to hang on to an asset that you yourself have devalued, and which will only continue to decline in value as long as you own it. Not only will it decline in value as long as you own it, it will decline in value specifically because you, Donald Sterling, own it. In marketing we call this “negative brand equity,” a concept you would have done well to familiarize yourself with at least before buying the Clippers, if not before getting into real estate (unfortunately, I think it’s too late now). Not only do you have no business owning or being associated with an NBA team, you have no business owning or being associated with a professional sports franchise in any sport. And honestly, I dare say you don’t have any business working in real estate either given your past violations of the Fair Housing Act, the “Korean World Towers” incident, and your absolutely horrible treatment of Kandynce Jones. Unfortunately for the rest of us, you are a walking, talking illustration of the phrase “more money than sense.” And dare I say it, I would be happy if someone truthfully told me you died broke, and I doubt I’m the only one.

To the other professional sports organizations, specifically (but not limited to) the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and NASCAR: You really shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad of an idea it is to allow Mr. Sterling to be an owner of a team or franchise in your respective organizations. But, for the record: as a fan of many specific sports, as well as a fan of sports in general and a fan of good morals and egalitarianism (equal treatment without regard to attributes such as race and gender), I will be severely disappointed should I find out Mr. Sterling is now associated with a team or franchise in any of your respective organizations, and I am positive I will not be the only one.

To the other 29 owners in the NBA: Edmund Burke is quoted as saying “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I believe you are all good men (and women). You will soon have an opportunity to do something about an egregious racist among your ranks who makes the entire NBA, your basketball league, look bad. Your commissioner did the right thing, but it’s up to you to finish the job. Please make the most of your opportunity.

To Adam Silver: To say the least, I think it is unfortunate that you were faced with this crisis so early in your tenure as commissioner of the NBA. However, you handled it extremely well and for that you deserve to be applauded. I realize there are people who will say something should have been done about Mr. Sterling a long time ago; in response to them, you may wish to quote the Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” It is my sincere hope that this is the beginning, not the end, of a quest to rid the NBA of discrimination. It is also my sincere hope that this is the only such sanction you have to impose during your tenure as NBA commissioner.

And finally, to all the NBA fans out there (fans of any of the 30 teams): There’s no better time to support your team than now. The commissioner of our beloved NBA has shown, just over two into his tenure, that he can make the right decision when the situation calls for it, and that he will not tolerate racism during his tenure. That’s a good reason to remain a fan or to come back if you have left within the tumultous events of the past few days.

Can you say “catch-22?”

Truthout recently reported on a most disturbing trend: job openings not open to the currently unemployed. (Translation: a job one can’t get unless one already has a job.)

The real kicker, as the story goes on to report, is that the unemployed are currently not a protected class under current discrimination laws, at least not directly:

While the unemployed aren’t a protected class under civil rights laws, the practice could be legally problematic if it has a disparate or discriminatory effect on groups of job seekers who are subject to civil rights protections.

In a public meeting Wednesday at EEOC headquarters, several witnesses testified that excluding the unemployed from job openings could disproportionately affect African-Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities and older workers — all federally protected groups whose jobless rates are well above the U.S. average.

So we can at least hold out hope that this is considered discrimination, albeit in a very backdoor fashion.

It shouldn’t come to that, though. It is a very unfortunate oversight that, until now, the possibility of discriminating against the unemployed has been overlooked as something that needs to be protected against. And for most of the last five decades, we haven’t needed to write that into the law books.

But, alas, it appears now we do. This is a new low for corporations, and to be honest, I’m not even sure what such an arbitrary exclusion is supposed to actually accomplish. Regardless, whatever companies are doing this (the Truthout story is unfortunately lacking names) should be ashamed of themselves.

A lesson in community and tolerance

This is one of the hardest entries for me to write. But it needs to be said, and I have a tie-in for the Houston locals out there reading this.

This story has been mentioned/written about in so many places that I’m going to just make a list for the links rather than stringing it together in prose:

  1. HRC Back Story blog
  2. Baby Rabies
  4. Candace Gingrich ( blog)
  5. (older article)
  6. Libby Post ( (older article)

The summary: Constance McMillan challenges a school policy that prom dates must be of the opposite gender. Constance takes school to court. Court finds school district is wrong to deny Constance attendance, but does not actually order school district to run the prom. School district cancels prom. Parents and private citizens offer to run prom for the school instead, details of which are kept mysterious and Constance isn’t invited. School reinstates prom at country club, where it’s attended by a total of seven students, two of whom have learning difficulties, plus some teachers and the principal as chaperones.

Obviously, the rest of the students wouldn’t stay home from “the prom.” So “the good kids” had their prom elsewhere, and the school district just happened to be in on the setting up of a decoy prom for Constance, her date, and the outcasts.

The actions of those involved in this shell game are despicable and inexcusable. We’re talking about a school district here, an entity whose very reason for existence is teaching. And teach they did, whether they realize itor not. What has the school district taught the entire senior class, and possibly the entire population of the school, by their actions regarding the 2010 prom?

The lesson taught to these kids is that discrimination, ostracism, and cutting out a few from a community for arbitrary reasons is acceptable. Now, the kids will do this on their own without any help from the school district. In fact these kind of silly checkers games are exactly what students do on their own without any help.

The school district and the parents in the community are supposed to be better than that. The right thing for the principal to do is to address at least the senior class, if not the student population about tolerance, and turn this entire ordeal into a lesson about building community that will last for a lifetime. The lesson that setting personal discomfort aside is sometimes what it takes to build a community. A lesson that appears to be lost on a fair number of people.

I dread what these young adults will be doing some years from now, when it’s not the high school prom anymore, but the adult social scene.

In a few years time, it won’t be about the prom. It’ll be about the block parties, cocktail parties, bachelor/bachelorette auctions, Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties. The kind of events that make a community amazing.

I feel for Constance and the other students that were deceived by their own school board. The same school board they and their parents trusted to look out for their best interests. And they did the exact opposite.

It’s simple enough, isn’t it? So I’m sure some of you may be wondering why it was so hard for me to write this.

Something very similar to what happened to Constance has been happening to me for the past year. This “community” we have in Houston… I mean, the people came from all over. Some are lifelong locals, others came from cities like Denver, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, others from smaller towns like Beaumont or Conroe. But many of them appear to have been taught the exact same lessons that the Itawamba County School District taught Constance and her classmates. And the sad thing is, some of these people I’m talking about went to private schools where the faculty should know better.

People in the arts have a reputation for being stuck-up and exclusive. I refused to believe that; I wanted to believe those people were just average people like me. Similiar things could be said for the tech and marketing/PR crowds, to a lesser extent, but my experience is the stereotype of those surrounding ballet, opera, dance, orchestra, and similar events is one of noses twenty feet in the air, and thus is probably the best example.

The good news is, a community is not like a piece of glass. It may be broken, but it can be fixed. And it should be fixed. Because cutting people out isn’t how you build a community. It’s how you destroy one.

No, I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I’ve made my mistakes. But I think we all would do well to learn from what happened to Constance McMillan. And since most of us are long since out of high school, I’d like to think we’re above the way high school kids act.

Despicable discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch

A recent post on the blog Zeldalily details the firing of Riam Dean, a UK native who was employed at the clothing mega-chain Abercrombie & Fitch. Riam has a prosthetic arm and normally wears a long-sleeve shirt to conceal it. The A&F store dress code normally requires employees to wear short sleeved shirts but Riam was given permission by the store-level management at A&F to wear a sweater.

Fast forward to a few days later. Riam’s store gets a visit from an image assessment team, and is summarily reassigned to stockroom duty, since she does not fit A&F’s “look policy” which, by its very name, sounds like it is a discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen.

Which, in this case, is exactly what happened: Riam is suing A&F for what they did. And I don’t blame her. In fact, this is so far out of bounds, I dare call it Hitleresque discrimination, and A&F deserves to pay dearly for this mistake.

Particularly disturbing is that this is not the first such misstep for A&F. The site documents a class-action lawsuit filed against A&F in 2004, based on flagrant racism in hiring practices, and settled for US$40 million. I’d like to think that lesson wasn’t so quickly forgotten. Apparently, it was, or A&F management forgot to tell the UK/Europe division about it.