Why Punishing Donald Sterling Doesn’t Fix the Problem

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

On Tuesday, one of the most significant moments in recent NBA history took place. League Commissioner Adam Silver levied a lifetime ban on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Silver also fined Sterling $2.5 million (the maximum allowed by NBA rules) and lobbied the other team owners to vote on forcing Sterling to sell the team. It was the most forceful punishment Silver could have used, the worst in league history, and it was well deserved.

Sterling was caught on tape making profanely bigoted comments to his girlfriend, a minority, against both blacks and Hispanics. Such comments are unacceptable in any context, and in a league where 70 percent of the players are black, they are particularly shocking. Sterling’s explicit racism left Silver no choice but to lower the boom on him.

In the hours and days that followed, the collective response has been celebratory. Players, coaches, owners, and media members have lauded Silver’s swift and strong response. It was called a banner day for the NBA and a blow struck against racism. No question, Sterling deserved what he got, but the punishment he received does not resolve a deeply rooted issue. Such a laudatory response is premature.

Sterling was a known bigot to many and a miscreant for decades. He has been sued for refusing to rent properties to minorities, accused of sexual indiscretions, and overheard making racially insensitive comments in the past. What made this instance different than the lengthy rap sheet he already had? Was it a new commissioner wanting to put his distinct mark on the league? Was it that the comments were caught on tape? Was this finally just too much? Why didn’t anybody—coach, player, owner—take a stand before now?

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Source: World Magazine

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of the forthcoming The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.