Posts Tagged ‘Donald Sterling’

Staying On Message

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Hawks Majority Ownder Bruce Levenson The man in the picture above is Atlanta Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson. I tell you this now, because before Sunday, I had never heard of him. From all indications he seems to be a decent man. No different than most, and certainly not as cartoonishly villainous as his former contemporary Donald Sterling. That said, in the post-Sterling NBA landscape, Levenson’s e-mail comments and his decision to sell his majority stake in the team have been the dominant news story this week in a sport, almost actively ignoring its World Cup. What has been most disappointing hasn’t been Levenson’s comments themselves, but the refusal to deal with them in any substantive manner beyond surface level, headline driven narratives.

This really wasn’t supposed to be an article in the first place. I read the letter, mocked it’s stupidity in a Facebook post and went on with my Sunday. While far from surprising, when the curtain is pulled back on how businesses decisions are made, it’s instructive to call out bad practices and take advantage of an opportunity to have a broader conversation. Instead, I woke up Monday to unexpectedly animated arguments and think pieces from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jason Whitlock defending Levenson as a businessman and downplaying any racism on his part.  Now let me put this as clearly as I can; I have absolutely no problem with an owner of a franchise looking into all the avenues possible to expand his fan base and support, make things more palatable for as many people as possible, and in this case make his team’s games more desirable to greater numbers of white fans. That’s his fiduciary responsibility as a business man, and wringing every last dime he can out of the product is to be expected: no more, no less. I have zero problems with him diversifying the musical selections and halftime entertainment, wanting more balance on who’s featured on the kiss cam or even the makeup of the cheerleaders. As insignificant as those items are, if they’re part of the larger problem of perception he’s perfectly in his right to tweak them.

Where Levenson ran into trouble wasn’t maliciousness, as dangerous as it is too read intent from the outside, but rather the cowardice of his action. The ease with which he slipped into stereotypes and specious remarks decrying the “few fathers and sons at the games” when the crowd was 70% Black, or shots at the “latest arriving crowd in the league” (the Lakers might have something to say about that) did him no favors. But it was the specifics to which Levenson discussed the crowd demographics he had in mind that really put it over the top:  Read more…


What Happens When We Move On?

April 30, 2014 1 comment


So now what?

For the last week, the news cycle has been filled with the Donald Sterling story. Equal parts salacious and pathetic, the released tapes of the Clippers owner’s racist remarks were tailor-made for the echo chamber of 24 hour media. Contrary to the breathless coverage that’s been devoted to it however, his recorded conversation was in no way surprising given Sterling’s history. What was somewhat unforeseen and far more significant has been watching the reaction to the story, which has yielded a look into the mindset of our society and the lessons we repeatedly forget in history.1

Monitoring the consumption of the story, one cannot help but be struck by the realization that there is a fundamental misunderstanding in this country of what racism really entails.

Understanding where this disconnect arises goes to the roots of the construction of race in this country. One of the successes of the American Civil Rights movement was framing racism as a moral failure that stained the national tapestry. It tapped directly into the promise of what the United States was supposed to represent coming in the post-WW2 era; and being driven by religious leaders, it made sense to channel that notion of a collectively wounded soul that aspired to be greater. Using the American mythos of freedom and self-improvement, and stirring that spirit into action to end racism was a masterstroke. The approach was unquestionably successful for activism and organizing, and produced some of the largest gains in overturning unjust legislation since the Reconstruction era.

In light of the subsequent 50 years, the unintentional consequence has been that the conversation of racism became viewed SOLELY as a moralistic issue. When filtered through a historical lens that seeks to soften the rough edges and lionize great successes of our country without confronting them, the multi-faceted reality has been lost. Racism is structural, institutional, and carries with it a pernicious power dynamic as well as tangible economic and legal costs. Too often its impact is reduced to merely the gauche language and behaviors associated with caricatures of the cartoonish bigot. As problematic and impactful as hate speech is, too often it’s easier to focus exclusively on eradicating that and obscuring the conversation from the full scope of damage that racism causes. This fallacy is laid bare when a man with Donald Sterling’s long history of racism is brought down for a distasteful conversation with his mistress, and not the hundreds of families that were displaced because of his (multiple) housing discrimination cases.

If we take anything away from this fiasco it’s the need to name racism with all its specificity, so that we we can finally have the hard conversations about its true face.  Read more…