This week, the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in a bind. Even playoff basketball, this time, may not be enough to distract the 13 players on the Clippers’ playoff roster and their coaching staff from the harsh face of reality.
We live in an instant world. In an age of Internet-induced interconnectivity, things happen quickly. This is because things are expected to happen quickly. For those of us who grew up within the issue-attention cycle, it’s strange to think of a time when everyone didn’t have an opinion about everything.
TMZ occupies the space somewhere between gossip and schadenfreude, with plenty of room for interpretation. The company is a disseminator of information, while social commentary is better left in the deep recesses of the web. Don’t shit where you eat, in other words.
Naturally, then, it was no surprise when TMZ pushed Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, purported racist and more generally hated representative of the affluent, into the spotlight once again Saturday, for more than just his teams’ shortfalls.
It’s a story made in tragedy porn heaven: a team, thrust into controversy while battling for a championship, which has a long history of evading the "lovable losers" across town from the city’s favorite sons, 16-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The evidence: a tape of an alleged conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend, with more bigoted comments than there is time to repeat. The jury: everyone who stumbled upon the Internet in the last 48 hours. The executioner: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Sterling’s team, an assembly of 11 African-Americans and two Caucasians led by legendary African-American coach Doc Rivers, is furious, and rightly so. The group took off their team jackets at mid-court Sunday, turned their warmups inside-out to cover up the Clippers’ logo and wore black armbands to protest Sterling’s comments.
It is to be a silent protest, however, with Rivers as the only source for team comments on the issue.
Athletes, as much as we’d like to imagine they don’t, operate in the same plane of interconnectivity as we do. Players are on Twitter, they read newspapers, watch ESPN and are undoubtedly the recipients of more than a few pieces of advice from either side of the argument.
A player strike, while certainly warranted, is the wrong reaction to this issue. It is certainly not fair for fans to push for a strike against the players' will.
Put your opinions as ordinary citizens into perspective: making it as a professional athlete in 21st century America involves, quite literally, a lifetime of work, regardless of their background.
At every turn, there exist people on the fringes whose remarks, whether based in reality or not, stand to take these people’s dreams away, whether it be due to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, grades in school, physical size or even personality.
According to the New York Times, an athlete’s best shot at making the NBA, statistically, is to be born into the wealthiest 20 percent of counties in the U.S. It makes sense when you think about it.
However, black athletes born into the bottom 20 percent of U.S. counties are 42 times more likely to make the NBA than their white counterparts, a telling statistic, especially considering African-Americans are only a little under three times as likely to be impoverished than their white counterparts.
And once these athletes either escape poverty or simply move from one privileged institution to another, the struggle to succeed does not simply end.
America’s oldest public university, North Carolina, was built by slaves in 1795. Now, 219 years later, UNC athletic learning specialist Mary Willingham attempted to expose a harsh truth about the college athletics system: Many revenue sport athletes, who are disproportionately African-American and make millions for their university, are not getting an education equal to the rest of campus. These same athletes are funnelled into fake classes and “easy” majors at high rates.
It’s hard to argue that unpaid (and disproportionately black) athletes are the backbone of the NCAA’s business model, however one feels about the future of “amateur” athletics.
Certainly, it is unfair that anyone, after having endured the latent racism in American athletics, should have to play under the auspices of a bigot like Sterling. But tell me, is it more unfair than a player strike resulting in a total loss of the right to play at all?
It now becomes the job of the league and other owners to discipline Sterling and see that this sort of ignorant, backwards thinking becomes a thing of the past. The team has stated its stance on the issue. The Clippers’ silent protest let those in charge know how the players and coaching staff feel.
Fans must, for right now, hope that Commissioner Silver sees justice done. By ostracizing the Clippers’ organization, we as a society are failing the players and the coaching staff.
If the league fails to act, if the league’s sanctions are poorly constructed or executed, if for some reason the racism continues after Sterling is gone, the players should strike, and fans should as well. But by preemptively acting, Sterling wins. Racism wins.
Playing in spite of his comments, at least to my eyes, is the ultimate protest. The players did not work their entire lives to let one man ruin the game they love, whether that man be the owner of their team or a random passerby.
As they have been their entire lives, the Clippers must play for themselves, not some man sitting in a box.
The fans must cheer, not for that man in the box, but for the five players on the court and the eight players sitting on the bench who stuck it out and beat the odds.
It’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.
What do you think about the situation in L.A.? How should the Clippers' players and coaching staff react to Sterling's comments? Let Brett know your take by emailing email@example.com.