Donald Sterling’s publicly disclosed comments depict an anachronistic view of race relations in this country. The NBA owner’s interview tour is beyond incomprehensible, sad, ignorant and completely shows that he has lost touch with reality.
His media revelations are undoubtedly hurtful, not only to the black players and staff of the NBA, but really hurtful to many Americans regardless of their race, who feel that finally (as partially symbolized by the ascension of President Obama and others) we have evolved as a society beyond a preoccupation with race. These are people who are proud to live in a nation that has moved closer to an ideal that urges us to judge our fellow human beings by their competence and character instead of their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
It was an embarrassing moment, not only for the NBA and society, but surely as well for the Sterling family, who now must live under the suspicion that deep within their hearts they condone such sentiments by their patriarch. Hopefully the candid peek behind the curtain into the private life of Mr. Sterling can also help us air some of the dirty laundry about race in this country and speak a bit more frankly than civil discourse usually permits.
In response to a question about “whether something good can come out of this,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers stated, “I think something good comes out of everything.” And that “something good” might be that some wealthy African-Americans might put their money where their race is, and step up to become part of an ownership group that ultimately purchases the team.
That would be a good outcome, but not for the reasons some may assume. First, it would mark a departure from the usual stance that blacks have had towards dealing with racism, and demonstrate the progress that this country has made toward obliterating racial discrimination. In the not-so-distant past, even if some individual blacks had achieved the financial wealth to be in a position to purchase a major sports franchise, their ability to do so might have been blocked for other, non-economic reasons. The fact that the NBA and the other owners are encouraging and demanding black entrepreneurs take a leadership role as owners in the league is a sign of maturity on the part of society.
But it also marks an opportunity for more black Americans to recognize their significant economic power in the marketplace of ownership. Some American blacks have taken comfort in a position of victimhood. In some respects, that attitude has removed the responsibility to take control of their own lives. Racism has been more of a crutch than an impediment, in that it discounted personal failures and amplified personal success.
The very fact that black ownership of professional sports teams remains a milestone despite the financial capacity of members of black community only underscores the case. Why does it take such a repugnant incident to spark the ownership bug? And is the symbolism of having blacks in the owner’s box possibly overshadowing the real business realities of professional sports?
In potentially taking on the mantle of ownership, the issue of character will remain front and center. Being black — or any race — will not make running an NBA franchise any easier. It’s one thing to play the victim and blame one’s circumstances on discrimination. It’s another to take responsibility for one’s circumstances and succeed, not despite but because of the obstacles one faces and overcomes.
As a business owner, I rarely think about race, or society, or what’s going on in someone else’s mind or in their closet. The buck literally stops with me, and I find myself much more than fully engaged with the challenges of meeting a payroll, managing TV stations, publishing American CurrentSee, hosting daily talk shows, generating new ideas and providing quality products in the marketplace.
There is a certain level of being above the fray that’s necessary to manage such responsibilities. Employees may have the option of not showing up, but ownership is a 24/7 job with no days off. As an owner, one has a broader constituency than just the racial or social class to which one belongs. In reality, owners themselves are owned by the marketplace. And because so much is riding on it — employee’s families and careers, providing critical goods and services to society at large — ownership demands the very best from us.
Owning a business is not an entitlement that one assumes based on one’s wealth, but a job just like any other within an organization. It requires the skill of ownership, which is really the judgment to make certain sacrifices in furtherance of the overall success of the organization.
Mr. Sterling, despite having demonstrated great business acumen over the years, lost sight of this. He let his personal prejudices and, apparently, appetites, get in the way of his better judgment.
He saw the players and the team as his personal toys, not as a members of an organization that deserved his full respect and leadership. It raises the question of how he could expect to build a championship team — and successful business — on the backs of employees for whom he has so little respect. This is a lesson that he should have learned long ago, but failed to appreciate despite several brushes with controversy.
Mr. Sterling critically misjudged the society in which we live. There are many who are outright offended by a suggestion that associating with blacks — or members of any other race — carries a social stigma. There are sizable and growing numbers of interracial relationships and adoptions, especially in Los Angeles.
You never know just based on the color of someone’s skin where their sentiments on the subject of race may lie. That’s why the Clippers controversy extends far beyond the black community in particular and affects business, and society, overall. Any prospective new owners would do well to consider these lessons before jumping into the arena.
• Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee Online Magazine.