Much has been made of the remarks, caught on an audio recording, that, it has now been confirmed, were made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. They were racist comments and included demands on a woman the website TMZ identified as Sterling's then-girlfriend V. Stiviano, a 31-year-old woman of black and Latin heritage he's reportedly known since 2010.
She was not, he said, to bring black people to Clippers games, nor to "broadcast" the fact that she's socializing with black men -- specifically citing Magic Johnson, an apparent friend of Sterling. "You can sleep with [black people]," though, he reassured Stiviano. "The little I ask you is not to promote it on [social media]... and not to bring them to my games."
For the comments, Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million. The NBA also announced it would start a process to force Sterling to sell the team, which he has owned since the 1980s. But just as notable as the racist beliefs expressed -- and yet what has not been raised in all of this -- was Sterling's blatant sexism, both in attempting to bully his woman friend into indulging his racism and in assuming that he could do so with impunity.
Stiviano has been accused of setting Sterling up, "payback" for the lawsuit Sterling's wife has pressed against the younger woman accusing her of embezzlement. But while Stiviano's motivations are surely worthy of question, so is Sterling's apparent belief that he could say those things to a woman, herself half black, and that she'd have no nerve to retaliate. That it's still acceptable to expect to call the shots, as the rich, older, white man.
It's not yet clear whether it was Stiviano who made the recording available to TMZ, which sent it spinning out into the media maelstrom. But if she is responsible for making Sterling's comments public, she has exercised a new sort of power that many women of her generation embrace. Her motivations may not have been pure; we don't yet know.
What we do know: Whether intended for her own benefit or not, she used her voice and her power to shine a light on abhorrent behavior that had, by many accounts, been going on for quite some time. After all, this is not the first time Sterling has expressed racist views, and acted on them with little to no response from the NBA or its players. In 2009, he paid nearly $3 million to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit in which he attempted to evict blacks and Hispanics from his properties. In 2011, he was sued by former staffer (and NBA Hall of Famer) Elgin Baylor, who is black, for wrongful termination. When Clippers assistant coach Kim Hughes underwent treatment for prostate cancer, Sterling refused to cover the costs instead making NBA players pay for it. And yet this incident is the first time that the 81-year-old Sterling's beliefs have incited such outspoken reaction among a community that has largely given him a free pass for decades.
Stiviano is not exactly a model citizen. If she is indeed the woman on the recording, she appears to be the "girl" of a married man (she denies this) 50 years her senior, for one thing. Regardless, perhaps the ends justify the means. Her actions have resulted in real change; certainly, they've sparked an important conversation within professional sports as well. What's more, you could argue that the woman on the recording didn't really set up the man on the recording; instead, she let events play out in a way that seemed quite characteristic for the Clippers owner.
As President Obama said, "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything. You just let them talk. That's what happened here." But the conversation wouldn't be public without a bold move from a woman who refused to just shut up and take orders.
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