Sterling first, Redskins next
Goodbye and good riddance, Donald Sterling. Your racist rants and views have no place in the National Basketball Association or anywhere in respectable society. I am proud of the reaction by NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, the players of the NBA, and the general public for their vehement objection to Sterling’s racism. However, I find the reaction highly inconsistent.
According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, African Americans comprise 76 percent of the players in the NBA and include the marquee names such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Nearly half of head coaches and assistant coaches are African Americans. African American attendance at NBA games is prominent, and some players turned executives have even made their way into the owner’s box like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. So the stakes were very high for NBA Commissioner, Silver, to force racism embodied by Sterling out of the game.
To his credit, Silver used the NBA constitution to its fullest in fining Sterling the maximum $2.5 million, banning him from attending games for life, and urging the board of governors, made up of other owners, to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Making this decision for the longevity of the NBA and solidifying NBA relations with its fans and players was not just the right thing to do, failure to do so could have put the entire future of the league in jeopardy.
Skeptics will say that Silver was forced to come down hard on Sterling because his racism was targeted toward African Americans who contribute such a large part to the league’s success. What if Sterling’s racism had been targeted toward Latinos? How about Asians or American Indians?
Malcolm Forbes once said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” So would the NBA despise racism targeted toward an ethnic population that only played a negligible role in its success? Will Americans continue to accept blatant racism in other sports?
Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is calling America on its inconsistency and asking, once again, that the National Football League force Washington Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, to change the most racist mascot in all of professional sports. Yes, that is the same Harry Reid that during the 2008 presidential campaign commented that candidate Obama was acceptably “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.” Here’s hoping that Harry Reid has learned from his own mistakes and has broadened his mind to focus on the contributions of people and not stereotypes about them. Here’s also hoping that the NFL broadens and drastically changes their perspective.
Though there are not major financial benefits for the NFL in changing the Redskins name, the stakes are high in Indian country. On ESPN, Oneida Nation representative, Ray Halbritter stated, “When a racial slur is being used to make a profit by a national football team at this level it only does damage to the self-esteem and self-image of our youth.” American Indian attorney Gyasi Ross explained the hypocrisy of Washington owner, Dan Snyder, who says the team name is not a real issue for American Indians, “it is the height of arrogance, to me, that non-natives … would superimpose [their] will and say what the real issues are.” Are we as a country willing to listen to a population that has little financial interest in the NFL?
The NBA has modeled a path forward for other professional sports leagues including the NFL. Though the NBA may have made the Sterling decision under the watchful eye of very involved African Americans, I would like to think that Commissioner Silver and his colleagues also made the decision because they want to be on the right side of history and stand with a celebration of the contributions of all ethnic populations in this country.
The larger question for our nation is whether we have true character; if we will make tough decisions when there are not looming financial implosions or athlete strikes at stake but rather simply because racism hurts and should not be allowed. How long the NFL allows the use of the Washington Redskins as a franchise name is indicative of our true character as a nation.