April 29, 2014 – For years, scholars of race and sports have drawn parallels between the ways in which the bodies of black athletes are exploited and the more brutal commodification of black labor in the antebellum south.
Last week, TMZ posted a telephone recording of a man identified as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling that breathes new life into the longstanding sports-as-contemporary-slavery analogy. Sterling is heard in the recording telling his girlfriend, Vanessa Stiviano, not to bring black people to Clippers games. The statements came after Stiviano, who is of black and Mexican descent, posted a picture of herself with basketball legend Magic Johnson on Instagram. Sterling specifically mentioned Johnson in the recording, saying, “Don’t bring him to my games, OK?” Sterling goes on to explain in the recording how American culture properly rests on a separation of the races and that Stiviano’s “broadcasting” of pictures of herself with black people violates this understanding and reflects negatively on him.
Players, coaches, sponsors, fans, and the NBA have all expressed their outrage at Sterling’s statements. At their most recent game since the controversy, Clippers team members protested the team’s owner by wearing their jerseys inside out, obscuring the team logo. CarMax, State Farm Insurance, Kia Motors America, airline Virgin America, P. Diddy’s water brand, AQUAHydrate, Red Bull, Yokohama tires and Mercedes-Benz are among the growing number of sponsors who have withdrawn support from the team. Public exposure of Sterling’s private sentiments are clearly not good for business in 2014.
For his part, Magic Johnson responded on Twitter by saying, “I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner.” Johnson also called the alleged comments “a black eye for the NBA.”
Describing Sterlings words as “disturbing and offensive,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver today banned Sterling for life from any association with the NBA or the Los Angeles Clippers. Sterling also will be fined $2.5 million — a mere sliver of the team’s estimated $500+ million value — all of which will be donated to organizations focused on anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts. Finally, Silver will encourage the NBA Board of Governors to force a sale of the Clippers.
Public exposure of Sterling’s private sentiments also are cleary not good for NBA business in 2014.
It’s somewhat ironic that this bombshell would drop just days after the Supreme Court essentially relied on a state’s rights argument to overturn a recent affirmative action victory in Michigan. The crisis also comes just days after college athletes, long exploited by NCAA rules against “improper benefits,” voted to unionize.
To hear the complete Sterling recording, click HERE.