NBA’s strong stand against racism welcome

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The punishment imposed on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his outrageous racist remarks was appropriate. And the speed in which NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acted is commendable.

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver said Tuesday as he announced Sterling was banned for life from the NBA and assessed a $2.5 million fine, the highest allowable under the rules. “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.”

Nor in society.

Unfortunately, the views of Sterling are still too common in America in 2014. People who hold racist views too often get away with making racist statements or taking racist actions. The right thing to do is to speak up and denounce racist behavior.

But it is difficult to take a stand, particularly when the offender has power and lots of money. It is far easier, and safer, to keep silent. Speaking out can cost people jobs and fracture relationships.

The NBA, its owners, players and coaches, are no different from the rest of America. They have apparently been letting Sterling — who is worth close to $2 billion — get away with racism for years.

Several people with close ties to the NBA said they were not surprised by Sterling’s racist rant. Elgin Baylor, the former Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers star (who played at Seattle University), sued Sterling in 2010 for wrongful termination and discrimination on the basis of age and race. It was settled out of court.

Bomani Jones, an ESPN writer and sports talk show host, wrote an article for ESPN.com in 2006 that called out Sterling as a racist. The article’s headline was — “Sterling’s racism should be news” — clear.

In 2006 Sterling was sued by the Department of Justice for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to black people. He eventually settled in 2009, agreeing to pay $2.73 million.

Doing so, however, did nothing to quash the notion he was a racist. In sworn testimony regarding the lawsuit, Sterling said, “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building. ... Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

Stunningly, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP honored Sterling with a lifetime achievement award in 2009 and was planning to present him another lifetime achievement award next month because he has donated money to the organization for years.

Enough money apparently causes selective hearing.

Perhaps what’s going on now will make it tougher to look the other way at racist behavior. The world has changed, smartphones with cameras and microphones are everywhere.

The strong stand by the NBA commissioner is a hopeful sign for the future.

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