Donald Sterling is not a contradiction

The latest media furor is that over Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, who had been recorded scolding his girlfriend for consorting publicly with black people and bringing them to the games. Today the NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned him for life from basketball and fined him $2.5 million.

To be quite honest, I had never heard of Sterling before this erupted but sports writer Dave Zirin says that Sterling’s racism was an open secret for a long time and that it is hypocritical for people in the basketball world to act like they were shocked by this revelation.

It turns out that Sterling is not only a racist but a discriminatory slumlord and an exploitative owner. What Sterling did was, like some rich people, buy himself immunity for his views. Kevin Drum says he regularly purchased newspaper ads that praised his generosity. This seemed to be enough to silence those who knew the truth and even for the NAACP, which not only give him an lifetime achievement award five tears ago but planned to give him another one in May. That has been canceled.

Much attention has been focused on Sterling’s comments on race but what I found interesting was his view of himself . Here he is talking about his team’s players.

“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?”

It is clear that Sterling is like the other one-percenters in that he thinks that he is the one who is doing all the heavy lifting in society and that others live off his largesse. Rather than the players earning their money because of their athletic abilities, it is he, out of the generosity of his heart, who provides with employment those who might otherwise be bums on the street.

On NPR this morning an analyst said that what was more interesting to explore than the racist comments was the contradiction between Sterling’s disdain for black people and the fact that his girlfriend is half black and half Mexican and that his players are majority black.

There is no contradiction. The idea that there is one stems from the misperception that racists avoid being near the people they dislike. To say that Sterling is a contradiction is say that the ante-bellum plantation owners who had racist views yet had black servants and slept with some of them were contradictions. In reality, it is perfectly consistent and all about demonstrating one’s power over people. What could be more satisfying to a racist than ‘owning’ someone, literally in the past and quasi-metaphorically now in the relationship between athletes and team owners in professional sports.

Racists have no problem with being in close proximity to those whom they think are inferior, as long as the latter know their proper place. In fact, you need them around in order to demonstrate your superiority. Sterling is in fact remarkably ordinary in this regard.


  1. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    Jon Stewart(‘s writers) were again on point, as ever, about this.

    Your take on his possible reasoning lines up with the facts better than my initial assessment. I thought perhaps he was trying to rescue the exotic beauty from the brute savages and improve her bloodline with his own superior contribution. Maybe I was being too charitable…

  2. says

    In reality, it is perfectly consistent and all about demonstrating one’s power over people.

    Indeed. Think Progress pointed out that he’s rather controlling of his girlfriend in question.

    While demanding that his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not bring black people to his games, Sterling makes it clear that he doesn’t care if she “sleeps with them” or “f***s him” (referring to Magic Johnson). He demeans her directly, calling her “stupid” and repeatedly telling her she doesn’t understand what he’s saying. He refers to her as a “born fighter” — “all you ever want to do is fight” — while telling her that they should end their relationship because he needs “a girl that will do what I want.” He wants her to conform to what it is he thinks she should be, a “delicate white or delicate Latina girl” (she’s biracial) because she doesn’t know “what people think” of her. At no point is it evident that Sterling views Stiviano as anything else but his temporary trophy, his property, a woman who should conform to what he wants whether than who she is. He’s a bully and a misogynist.

  3. colnago80 says

    Actually, I understand that she is his ex-girlfriend. There is currently a smear campaign against Ms. Stifiano, undoubtedly being orchestrated by Sterling or his sycophants.

  4. Ollie Nanyes says

    Interesting. I suppose there is a difference between feeling superior to a group of people (you can associate with them so long as they “know their place”, as one might associate with a pet) and just not liking a group of people (not wanting to be around them)

  5. kyoseki says

    The Popehat guys have been retweeting dozens of idiots complaining that Sterling’s 1st Amendment rights have been violated, because obviously, the NBA is a part of the federal government.

  6. says

    Nope, no contradiction. He clearly has disdain for women, too, and he apparently spends time with them. Some of us need some kind of “inferior” being around, just to bolster our own pathetic sense of superiority, self-worth, and accomplishment.

  7. jaytheostrich says

    I’m all for calling bigots out, but how exactly did they go about fining him millions just for saying stupid and offensive things? Does he not have freedom of (stupid) speech, or what? How was this legal? Just wondering.

  8. kyoseki says

    The NBA is not the federal government, he’s not getting prosecuted for saying dumb shit, he’s getting fired.

    Turns out, when you say unbelievably stupid shit, it tends to cost you customers & sponsors, which is a problem if you’re part of a larger whole (the NBA) who would really rather have that money.

    That’s why he’s getting fired.

  9. kyoseki says

    In other words:
    The First Amendment only guarantees you that the government won’t stop you from saying stupid shit, it doesn’t insulate you from the consequences on a personal or professional level.

  10. eigenperson says

    Jay: the NBA’s contract with him probably says they are allowed to fine him. If he doesn’t like it, he probably should have negotiated a different contract — or just not signed.

  11. Guess Who? says

    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the Ms. Stifanos of the world; it’s obvious why she dated him. She was willing to put up with the disrespect to get to the money.

  12. says

    @jaytheostrich #7 – To say that someone “owns” an NBA team (any other professional sports team, for that matter) gives the wrong impression. Sterling does not own the Clippers, he owns a franchise to the team. Franchising contracts always give the franchiser (the NBA, in this case) the power to sanction the franchisee (Sterling, in this case) when the franchisee does anything that damages the brand. NBA franchise contracts, presumably, allow the NBA to levy fines, restrict participation, and presumably to force the sale of the franchise to a different owner. This is a very well settled area of contract law, and presumably something that Sterling knew when he signed the papers.

  13. throwaway says

    Guess Who?

    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the Ms. Stifanos of the world; it’s obvious why she dated him. She was willing to put up with the disrespect to get to the money.

    So, in your world, it’s okay for a man to use his money to obtain trophy women and all teh sexy time, but it’s not OK for women to use their beauty and sex appeal to obtain money from those men in a mutual agreement? I mean, if it’s so “obvious” to you, what makes you think it’s any less obvious to them? Hell, couples like these probably introduce themselves at parties as “This is my gold-digging trophy girlfriend” or “This is my sugar-daddy.” What right is it of yours to say that she’s undeserving of sympathy for putting up with any kind of abuse at all simply because her motives don’t meet your puritan standards of relationships? It’s not like she sold her self to someone. She chose to be with someone who could provide her with what she wanted.

    TBH, Guess Who?, it sounds like you’re a little jealous.

  14. Guess Who? says

    LOL, throwaway, you assume too much. Just like I deplore Sterling for boo-hooing that he was fired for saying ourtrageously stupid things, I have no sympathy for a grown woman who hooked onto an old man for money, then boo-hooed that he had no respect for her and dumped her.


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