Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A few thoughts on the cranky old racist

Donald Sterling has long been, for good  reason, a pariah among owners of professional sports teams. Not only were his Clippers among the worst run franchises in sports, he seemed to mix his incompetence with multiple layers of distastefulness such as that recently on display.

So there's really no point in commenting on his philosophy of race and the single girl. It's too weird. Here's a guy carrying on with a woman who is young enough to be his granddaughter. (He has obviously forgotten the controversial - but time honored and scientifically validated - rule for these things.)

Although she is apparently of black parentage, he doesn't want her to be seen with black people (who he, nevertheless, says are "wonderful") because ... well, I don't know. Apparently because he "has to live in" some kind of "culture" that doesn't  .... what ... want black people at NBA games? Or maybe "the culture"  just doesn't want black people at NBA games with a woman that Donald Sterling is trying to pretend isn't black - one who, he says,  is supposed to be a "delicate white or Latina"?

You figure it out. I can't. This is serious psycho-scrapple. But panic over African American men being around white women is an historic and ugly manifestation of racism. I suspect that had somehing to do with it.

But it's also a no-brainer to condemn, so let's consider four additional points.

First, Christian Schneider thinks we should quit excusing old people from being racists. I hadn't noticed that we did. But let me endorse the sentiment and add an observation or two.

The March on Washington took place over 50 years ago. Donald Sterling, according to the authorities at Wikipedia, was 30 years old then. The civil rights movement was not something that happened after he was a crusty old fart set in his ways. Maybe we could excuse those people - say Strom Thurmond or George Wallace - who were "too old" to adjust (and, actually, Thurmond and Wallace did change; at least a little), but those old people are mostly dead now.

More fundamentally, you don't get to be a crusty old fart set in your ways. You can think that older ways of thinking were better - often they were (albeit not on this issue) - but you have to keep making the case for the good old days.  Getting older doesn't mean you get to stop thinking. In fact, doing that will make it harder for you to keep getting older.

So, just as I wouldn't excuse Henry Aaron for not understanding the modern world, Sterling gets no pass. (And, no, the fact that I won't allow either to use the "stuck in the past" excuse does not "equate" their remarks.)

Besides, if he wants to run with a 21st century hottie, he needs to act his pretend age. Suck in your gut and let Lolita bring Magic Johnson into the luxury box.

Second, what should the NBA do? As I write this, he has been fined and banned for life. Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, intends to try to force him to sell the team. This seems about right to me -although I'm a little unclear as to how you ban him from the league and still collect the fine.

I am not suggesting that everyone with views we disapprove of or that are unpopular should be driven from public life. I am very critical of Mozilla for firing its CEO because he differs with Silicon Valley's regnant view on the purpose and meaning of marriage. Civility requires that we learn to live, do business and sometimes even play with people we disagree with.

But all disagreements aren't the same. Saying that you don't want black people at your games - or don't want them there with certain kinds of people - is a delusion too far.

I detest our contemporary habit of condemning people based on an isolated remark. But this was an entire and rather belabored conversation. More fundamentally, it is consistent with some of Sterling's behavior in the past.

It is certainly true that publicizing private conversations is icky. In some states and under some circumstances, it is even illegal. But that's a different issue for another day.

Third, we shouldn't try to make this into a proxy for something that it isn't. In the wake of Sterling's comments, some conservatives inappropriately tried to make hay of his donations to Democratic candidates. Liberals tried to spike the football over the fact that he is a registered Republicans. In a truly silly column, Jeffrey Toobin seems to think that the remarks of this addle-brained and long standing creep (along with those of the crank Cliven Bundy) mean that we can't really ban discrimination on the basis of race. (More on that later.)

Donald Sterling's racism and his odd panic over his black and Hispanic girlfriend are about Donald Sterling.

Finally, what does this mean for us? Before a whole slew of new baseball palaces were built in the late nineties and oughts, MLB used Florida as a threat to get cities with existing franchises to come over with public money. Don't want to build a stadium? Tampa would love to have your team. (Ironically, when Florida did get baseball, it turned out that it wasn't a great location.)

The NFL uses Los Angeles in he same way. The NBA uses Seattle. If, as I suspect, the Clippers get sold, it's not clear to me that someone paying a market price would want to keep it as a second LA team. It may well be that the Clippers go to Seattle. I don't think that means the Bucks can stay in the Bradley Center, but it might change the dynamic.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

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