It’s time for someone in the NBA to show some backbone. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has got to go and he has got to go in a very public fashion.
Listen to the audio recording that is alleged to be of his voice spewing vile reproach at his mistress about her associating with black people in public, and taking photos with black people (Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp, in particular). The audio has not been authenticated as Sterling, but he has not denied it.
Listen to the entire five minutes of unhinged ranting and you’ll hear a man forbid a woman (Sterling’s girlfriend, V. Stiviano, TMZ alleges) from bringing black people to NBA games, as well as some very strange, offensive opinions about “black Jews” being treated worse in Israel than “white Jews.”
There are many questions about the legality of the recording and how TMZ got its hands on it (my money is on Stiviano, who is embroiled in legal troubles with Sterling’s wife, is almost 60 years his junior, and also happens to be of mixed race and part black).
If the recording is proven to be Sterling, the NBA has a wide open court and one shot to shatter the glass on this dunk. Forget the short suspension paired with “pressure” to sell the team — a la Marge Schott, who in 1999 was forced out as owner of baseball’s Cincinnati Reds after making comments about blacks, Jews and gays.
The Players Association’s demand that Sterling be barred from all playoff games this season isn’t enough. What the players in the league deserve is for Sterling to be suspended for life and publicly–and unprecedentedly–stripped of his franchise rights.
If they merely “suggest” he sell the team, he’ll just complain that he was set up by a crazy mistress and will make out like a bandit. He bought the team in 1981 for $12 million. Fortune recently put the value of the team at $575 million.
We can admonish Sterling all we want, and there has been plenty of that coming in: from LeBron James (“I couldn’t play for him”) to Michael Jordan (“sickening”) to the President of the United States (“incredibly offensive”). But talk is cheap: It’s time for someone to be bold.
The players have already missed the opportunity to send the NBA, its owners and its fans a powerful message. Just days after the story broke, the players, most of whom are black, had game four in the league series on Sunday night in Oakland. They showed up and they got shellacked.
They found ways to make statements of protest: turning their practice jerseys inside out, piling their warm-ups in the center court and wearing black socks in solidarity with other teams. It was noteworthy, but once again, Sterling got a pass. The players would have done the league, the country and themselves a huge favor if they had just not shown up to the game.
With the momentum of this story, and the outrage building, a boycott would have been the principled stance that the league has been missing all these years. The nation would have been 100% behind the players. The Clippers jerseys would have been reclaimed by the players as a symbol of power, rather than a reminder of its racist owner.
But now there will just be more talk. Should fans boycott the games? Should people not wear the jerseys? The public, the Clippers fans and the players need a way to show their support for the players and their disgust for Sterling.
For now, we wait to see what Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA decide to do. They might as well play to win. As they say in sports, go big or go home.
Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and founder of inspire52.com, providing daily “good news” stories and viral videos. She hosts The Mel Robbins Show Sundays from 7-9 p.m. on WSB 95.5 in Atlanta and News 96.5 in Orlando. In 2014, she was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.