Appearing on the Don Imus morning show earlier this past week, before the Donald Sterling story broke, Imus and I were discussing the Supreme Court ruling against Affirmative Action and other issues of "race" as we have consistently done over the past several years, and I made two points that have relevance to the current uproar over the Donald Sterling comments.
First, I indicated my concern and disagreement not only with the Supreme Court ruling (which was expected), but also the mass responses from average Americans and many prominent conservatives arguing that in the country today Affirmative Action was "no longer needed" or asserting that "we are past all of that now." The suggestion being that with Barack Obama in the White House we simply don't have the reasons we might have had in the past for needing Affirmative Action. Nonsense.
As Imus and I both agreed, not only was the election of Barack Obama not going to usher in a new "post-racial" society in America, but it was my argument that in some ways, Hillary Clinton would have been able to accomplish more for African Americans in eight years precisely because of racial undertones that would limit Obama's actions on the issue that would not limit Hillary's, or those of another White liberal.
Ironically, at Donald Sterling's level, the problem of bias and prejudice against African-Americans and other minorities is not quite as severe although Sterling's comments show clearly that the problem does exist there as well.
But at the Sterling level, the Magic Johnsons, Oprah Winfreys, Kobe Bryants, Tiger Woods and fellow owner Michael Jordon types of the world don't have to pay much attention to Sterling's biased and insensitive comments because Sterling can't affect their lives in a negative way with his bias as they are as powerful and influential as he is.
But if we move down several levels lower than Sterling, in any organization or corporate entity, the people at those lower levels who feel the same way as Sterling CAN affect many lives because sharing Sterling's attitude at that level, those that do can see to it (even subconsciously) that African-Americans, Hispanics and any other targeted group are not promoted, not included and not invited.
The Supreme Court was wrong in its decision, and for the constitutional purists, lets make sure you understand that I also understand the empirical substance of the ruling. The Court was essentially not ruling on the merits of the law but rather turning it back to the States to decide, and we and every member of the Court knows full well that there is popular opposition to Affirmative Action at the State level, largely from people not understanding that the problem really is still there.
And in making that decision the Court was saying that since we're against this, and we know the States are also, we'll just turn it back to them and let them overturn these laws at the State level.
But to say that "we're past that" or " we don't need it anymore" fails to understand the deep roots of this type of pernicious bias and intolerance. If a problem is still a real problem, then any solution you've implemented to address that problem is still needed until the problem is solved.
I mentioned Kobe Bryant earlier, and he was quoted as saying that he "wouldn't want to play for him" referring to Donald Sterling.
Frankly, I have also expressed my displeasure in the past with Black successful athletes for not taking bolder stands on issues of "race", and I particularly raised concerns several years ago when Donald Sterling settled the lawsuits charging him with discrimination and bias in renting and selling apartments and condos to African-Americans and Hispanics.
That was when players should have said "I won't play for him." And I am not naive on this. I also said that it would only work then if ALL the players protested and shut down -- not just one or two. And nothing happened.
Now it's too late on this current issue. The Clippers have to play this out and play for themselves and try as hard as they can to win and go as far as they can in the playoffs.
And they have to individually and collectively make clear that they are doing that for themselves and collectively for each other, not for Donald Sterling. And fate always has its place, as who could be better than "Doc" Rivers to coach the Clippers through this, and already he has demonstrated outstanding leadership.
But as everything else in America, the economics and money will ultimately play as major a role as any other component. And that will force the NBA to move on this quickly.
Does anyone out there think that Magic Johnson will be the only one not attending Clippers games, and when the camera pans around the stadium and sees half empty seats that's a bad image for the NBA to project, and it will get worse when sponsors pull out because, unlike Donald Sterling, they do want ALL the fans to come to the games (and where did he ever get that notion to say "don't come to my games" -- "my games").
If there is ever going to be a player boycott on an issue of "race", it would have to be during the regular season and would have to involve players on ALL the teams, not just one -- they would have to shut down the League (any league), so that the other owners would also feel the effect of the protest and then step in to stop the bleeding. For the Clippers, they just need to play on with the same fire and energy they have shown so far, and if they get bounced out of the playoffs, they need to let Golden State or OKC do it, not the "race" issue.
Earlier this morning I watched television coverage of the Sterling affair and one commentator mentioned that Donald Sterling was actually Jewish. I'm not sure what perspective that commentator was trying to suggest, but let me make sure that a positive one is also presented as well.
Yes, Donald Sterling is Jewish. But former NBA Commissioner David Stern is Jewish and Stern's hand-picked successor, current Commissioner Adam Silver, is also Jewish. And I, for one, am counting on the shared Black and Jewish heritage of understanding the awful consequences of hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and bigotry that both groups have faced throughout history to help forge a decisive response.
And I feel quite comfortable and confident that Silver and his current NBA administration will move quickly and decisively and draw on that nostalgic time in America when Blacks and Jews formed one of the most powerful political alliances in the country to make the proper statement and let Donald Sterling know by action and deeds that while we may not be in a "post racial" society, we have certainly progressed passed a plantation -- slave society. And maybe, just maybe, in the not too distant future, Donald Sterling will be gone from the arena while the Clippers will still be playing!
Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles based columnist, TV political analyst, radio commentator, and a national lecturer and business consultant. Jeffers is President of Intelli Marketing Associates. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: carljeffers.com