Donald Sterling: It’s All About The Money

“Everything good that is not based on a morally good disposition, however, is nothing but pretense and glittering misery.” – Immanuel Kant

Time for one of my rare political posts.  I do not do these too often, because I usually want to make sure that I actually have something intelligent to say, and that I’m not going to make a fool of myself.  Would that others were capable of such self-restraint!

I really don’t follow sports, so until a few days ago I had never heard of Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the LA Clippers basketball team.  However, Sterling made the headlines in a big way when taped voice messages for his mistress, a part-Hispanic, part-black woman who apparently goes by several names, including V. Stiviano, were leaked to the press.  The 80 year old Sterling was caught on tape criticizing the 31 year old Stiviano for posting photos of herself with African American basketball legend Magic Johnson on Instagram.  According to CNN, Sterling told Stiviano “In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people.”  He went on to add “I’ve known (Magic Johnson) well, and he should be admired. … I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately. Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

Well, the shit immediately hit the fan, and Sterling has been up to his neck in a public relations nightmare for the last several days.  The mostly-black line-up of the Clippers showed up on the court with their warm-up gear inside out.  Over a dozen corporate sponsors made the decision to pull their support for the Clippers.  It all culminated in NBA commissioner Adam Silver banning Sterling for life, fining him $2.5 million, and urging the Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

Following Silver’s announcement, former NBA player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson publicly praised the decision.  He announced that “it delivered a statement about where we are as a county.”

Oh, yes, it delivered a statement, all right.  It declared, loud and clear, that the god of the American people is the almighty dollar.

Donald Sterling cartoon by Chip Bok

Let’s take a look at Donald Sterling’s long, sordid history.  He is a serial philanderer who was most recently carrying on a relationship with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, apparently showering her with $2 million in gifts, all the while undoubtedly bringing embarrassment to his wife & children.  Sterling was unsuccessfully sued in 2009 by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor for age & racial bias.  In that same year, Sterling paid $2.725 million to settle a housing bias suit brought against him by the Justice Department, which alleged that he systematically drove blacks, Hispanics and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned.

All of this is in Sterling’s past.  But none of it previously seemed to bother the NBA, the players on the Clippers, or the team’s corporate sponsors terribly much.  Hell, even the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award after his contribution of $45,000 to their coffers.

However, once Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks, causing a huge PR debacle, seething anger among the Clippers line-up, and sponsors to start fleeing from him like he’s come down with a case of the bubonic plague… then, and only then, does the NBA decide that Sterling is a reprehensible human being.  Yes, it took the looming threat of a gigantic loss of revenue to finally cause the NBA to cut Sterling loose.  Oh, yeah, and the NAACP is now keeping their distance.

This entire situation reminds me of what happened back in February in Arizona.  The state legislature had passed the controversial SB 1062, which would have allowed businesses in Arizona to deny service to gay & lesbian customers if that decision was “substantially motivated by a religious belief.”

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was a week away from deciding whether to sign or veto SB 1062 when all hell broke loose.  Companies such as American Airlines, AT&T and Marriot voiced concerns over the bill.  Apple, which was in the middle of building a plant in Mesa that was expected to create hundreds of new jobs, urged Brewer to veto SB 1062.  The state Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and a number of local businesses all came out in opposition to it.  Even three of the state legislators who had originally voted yes for SB 1062 were suddenly back-peddling furiously, urging Brewer to exercise her veto power.  The general dawning realization among many seemed to be “Wait a second, if this thing goes into effect, we could lose a shit load of money!”

In the end, Brewer did veto SB 1062.  But while it was the right decision, it was quite clearly done for the wrong reasons.  Instead of making her choice for reasons of social justice, Brewer’s motivation was financial.

It is a terrible tragedy when freedom and liberty are at the whims of economics, that the defense of civil rights is predicated on whether or not it is financially judicious.  Sadly, though, that has often been the case.  One of the most powerful tools of the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was the economic boycott.  Now more than ever, though, it seems that significant social progress is unlikely without a monetary incentive behind it.

As the old saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks.

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