The news of Donald Sterling being racist is not a sports story – it a story about humanity. One man’s racism is at its foundation. It is moot that a basketball team was involved – I think we often forget that when situations such as this arise.
For instance, take the Pennsylvania State University sexual assault scandal. ESPN and other sports outlets extensively covered that when it ultimately has little (a.k.a. zero) ties to the on-field performance of the athletes (a.k.a. what television stations do cover). The media tried to make it a sports story, when it really was about a sick old man’s heinous crimes – he just happened to work at a major sporting institution.
In response to Sterling’s racist remarks, the Los Angeles Clippers players refused to wear the normal Clippers warm-ups and turned the shooting shirts inside-out to hide the team’s logo. The gesture was simple, yet effective. Many people called for the players boycotting the games. The Golden State Warriors claim they had an extensive protest in place had Sterling not brought the lifetime ban hammer down on the bigot. If you ask me, turning the shirts inside out is a perfect response to the situation.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said in an interview that he does understand why the victims of racial abuse are the ones forced to respond, and I agree. Why should anyone – an athlete, politician, carpenter, teacher, etc. – let one ignorant person ruin it for everyone? The answer is they should not. And they did not. I have to admit, my knee-jerk reaction was that the players shouldn’t play but after hearing Rivers’ words, I rethought that. The players are out on the court to play basketball and hopefully win a championship.
To reiterate this point, the Miami Heat flipped their shooting shirts inside-out in a moment of solidarity prior to a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. It was a move somewhat scoffed at by the public on the grounds that the self-absorbed Heat can’t resist the limelight.
Why does it have to be about showmanship? Why not acknowledge that it was an act of humility? I took the action as the team recognizing athletes in the same league, but more importantly, because they are decent humans – many of them black – that were disgusted and offended by the words.
Racism transcends sports. So when we have racism in sports, it first and foremost is an issue in society. We often get caught up in the chaos when a social issue takes place in a sporting venue, forgetting that these issues exist every day with little notice from the world. For better or worse – and my opinion is biased, remember – it seems to take sports to gain traction for such heavy social issues. I thought race issues were long gone, but clearly I was wrong.
What Sterling did was reprehensible – no one is denying that. I am just hoping that the next time something like this happens (and it will happen), we recognize the athletes by the color of their skin and not the color of their jerseys or the ball in their hands.