Here is a link to my Sunday column about Donald Sterling. The full text runs below:

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a racist.

He certainly seems to be. Go listen to his nine-minute conversation with his girlfriend on TMZ and you’ll hear disturbing things, shocking things he reportedly told her. He claims the tape may have been altered. Perhaps.

Here’s a sample of him allegedly talking to his girlfriend:

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”

“You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that (Instagram) and not to bring them to my games.”

“I’m just saying, in your lousy (expletive) Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.”

“Don’t put him (Magic Johnson) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

It is sad and troubling for anyone to think and say those things. It’s especially sad for a team owner whose star players are black to hold these feelings, to say these awful things — if he really said them.

Before we move on, the issue may not be as simple as it seems. Did he really say these hateful things? If he did, he did not say them publicly. He did not show up at the Staples Center and go on a racist rant like that horrible Cliven Bundy routinely does at his ranch so we’ll see and hear him on our TV sets.

Sterling apparently thought he was speaking privately to his girlfriend. He did not know she was recording him — I assume she recorded him. He did not know she would give the tape to TMZ — I assume she gave the tape to TMZ.

I am not saying any of this absolves Sterling. Of course, it doesn’t. He comes off horrible. But many people have awful private thoughts they do not make public. He never intended to make this stuff public, and his girlfriend seems to have ratted him out — ratted out the rat. And now everyone is in a mess — Sterling, his girlfriend, the Clippers, the Warriors, the NBA, you and I.

This playoff series between his Clippers and the Warriors has been so much fun, dramatic, tense, filled with great storylines. It was sport at its best — taking us away, for a time, from the hard realities of life.

Sterling has become a hard reality of life and, because of what we may know about him, this playoff series has turned grim and tawdry.

The Warriors had a workout Saturday morning. Mark Jackson came out to talk and everyone asked about Sterling. Jackson chose his words carefully.

“I’m disappointed in the comments made, unfortunate,” he said. “I believe there’s no place in society for those feelings. It’s just sad.”

The questions and answers persisted on that topic. For a while, no one asked about his team or today’s game. Here’s some more:

Q: Would he play today if he were a Clipper?

A: “In fairness, I’m not in that position and that’s their fight, that’s the uniform they wear. From my standpoint, it’s important for me to let it be known it’s unacceptable and I’m disappointed in the statements.”

Q: Should the other owners do something about Sterling?

A: “This is the real world. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the statements that were made, there’s other people in the world that feel that way. So let’s not be naïve.”

Andre Iguodala made himself available to the media. Thoughtful man.

“I’m not surprised (with Sterling’s comments),” he said. “You see it every day. Everyone has something wrong with them as far as what they believe in. Hopefully, he’ll have a change of heart at some point in his life.”

Is Iguodala angry at Sterling?

“I would be him if I had the same hatred,” Iguodala said. “I’d be a hypocrite if I felt the same way. There’s no place for that in this sport or any other business. It’s only going to keep us from getting to where we all want to be and for all of us to be equal.”

The NBA says it is conducting an investigation. If this stuff is true, expect the league to suspend and fine Sterling. The league may even force him out quietly and behind the scenes, because he is a racist and an embarrassment.

Immediately, after his comments went public, some reporters said Clippers players would boycott today’s game. That never was going to happen — the Clippers will play today.

Here is Iguodala on why the Clippers must play. “You’ve got to be bigger than the ignorance. Just by playing, it shows all the hard work those guys put in, the sacrifices they made to fulfill their dreams (and not) to let someone like that detour you from what you want to be.”

The Clippers practiced at the USF gym on Saturday. Doc Rivers told reporters Sterling’s remarks upset him and the team. He was troubled the Clippers had to spend time talking about their ridiculous owner when they could have been preparing for the Warriors. The Clippers players chose not to speak about Sterling.

Some reporters have speculated Sterling’s remarks would adversely affect the Clippers’ play. That assumption is absurd. I need to tell you about professional sports. Players, in general, don’t like ownership. Players, in general, don’t like management. If you think a team is one happy family, you live in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

From a player’s point of view, the owner is the person who screws him out of money. The owner ends his career too early. The owner doesn’t care about him, treats him like a commodity. Steals his dignity.

Players feel this about all owners, not just Sterling, although now they may have additional reasons to dislike him. And don’t think the players loved Sterling until now. He rarely goes into their locker room, has almost nothing to do with them. He’s said to be cheap.

This anger toward Sterling actually may help the Clips play better, harder, angrier, may bring them together.

They are playing for themselves, not for the owner. It is us against them and “them” is Sterling.

Each game, the Clippers and Warriors have avoided shaking hands before the opening tip. They should shake hands today, acknowledge their solidarity against Sterling and his awful ideas, acknowledge their shared objection to racism.

Then they can play their hearts out in the game.

(For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.)


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  1. Stan

    The biggest hypocrite of the day is Clippers coach Doc Rivers- “The easy thing would be to protest(boycott) the hard part is to play”..What a bunch of self serving garbage. If the Clippers forfeited the game? That would put huge pressure on the NBA to kick out Sterling.
    Its a good thing MLK took the easy way.

    April 27th, 2014 9:08 am

  2. Streetglide

    The NBA stinks from top to bottom…

    April 27th, 2014 10:11 am

  3. Streetglide

    And let me add to that. First, Sterling is a stupid rich man on so many levels. Racism is a huge fence around anyone’s soul. Having said that, African-Americans get a huge pass on their own anti-white stuff. It’s every bit as common if not more so than what is coming the other way.

    Advertisers for years have used caricatures of white men to indicate stupidity, lack of physical skill and ignorance. I can point out many commercials where the black person is hip, cool and the whites are doofuses. The Michael Jordan underplants commercials are a classic. The current Mini automobile commercials is another one. But there are many, many… many more. Jon Stewart’s show is based on kicking white folks for laughs.

    Until a very hard conversation in American society about race, culture and class is held, we will have the Sterlings as well as racism in general festering here. And that doesn’t even bring up Latinos and Asian-Americans whom the media don’t even deem worthy of the race conversation…

    April 27th, 2014 10:21 am

  4. Steve the cat rescuer

    First of all, thank you for pointing out that Sterling is: a) alleged to have said these things and b) that Sterling is not the only bad guy in this scenario.

    Most journalists and many in the media have focused solely on Sterling, yet the only parties that may have committed illegal activity are the so-called girlfriend and TMZ. In fact, the girlfriend could be charged with two felonies (blackmail and extortion) and a misdemeanor (recording a conversation without two party consent), while TMZ could be charged under California law as a coconspirator in all three. In addition, both could be sued under civil law. If the recordings prove to be unaltered, it will be hard to convince me that this was not preplanned and scripted by the girlfriend and TMZ.

    Which is not to say that Sterling is not a racist and a scumbag. He has a documented history of discrimination in his real estate dealings and has been voted by players and other personnel as the worst owner in all of sports. But as Streetglide commented, let’s not be so quick to use the race card whenever there is a perceived injustice against blacks and other ethnic or racial minorities.

    April 27th, 2014 1:38 pm

  5. MRO

    All the uproar over the private comments of someone. Imagine if some of your private comments were made public. Donald Sterling has long been thought of as a lousy sports owner. When the Clips were bad he was ridiculed. You know who he was good buddies with? Al Davis. Figures (although Al was no bigot).

    His comments were gross, he’s a schmuck, blah blah blah. But the media LOVES THIS STUFF! They can’t get enough of it and consequently the coverage has been over-the-top. And I don’t care what anyone says, but this sort of stuff makes the day for the Al Sharptons of the world. For them this is good for business.

    BTW, I have a question: if this is nothing new for Sterling (he’s done stuff like this before, he’s made racial comments, etc.) why was the LA chapter of the NAACP about to hand him a lifetime achievement award?

    April 27th, 2014 7:13 pm

  6. Dave T

    I do no believe that there is a human being alive that has not had some ill feelings or even made remarks at one point or a another disparraging another based on race, religion, creed or sexual orientation. Sadly, this is a part of the human condition and will in all likelyhood always be a part of the world. And in today’s uber-fast and in many ways invasive media age, privacy and personal remarks make their way to the world at dizzying speeds. So I agree, it sounds like these we said in private and meant to be in confidence.

    Having said that, it is very very disheartening that a professional sports team owner would say such things. Owners of teams, who are by that very nature, going to be in a spotlight, should be held to higher standards of conduct. Same goes for professional athletes as well. They should be helping to set examples by their play and their actions, on and off the court, field, ice, etc.

    I am sure that the NBA will move quickly and decisively in this matter. And while this was not nearly as “ugly” as the incident that took place in Spain in the soccer match between Villareal and Barcelona, where a fan threw a banana on the field at Dani Alves of Brazil, it is still disgraceful. We may have come a long way in our quest for equality, but we, and I mean we as a whole, have a long way to go.

    April 27th, 2014 7:33 pm

  7. Mark M

    After watching game 4, it’s clear that this series is no longer about basketball anymore.

    April 27th, 2014 9:07 pm

  8. Tommy CostaRica

    MRO good question, I was asking myself the same thing. Cut to the chase, this is just good basketball entertainment for us Warriors fans! Our games are spotlight now and I think that something big may be brewing for Tuesday’s game! I have heard that a march is planned for outside of Staples and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fans don’t show and or the ones that do will root for the Warriors. Maybe the players will quit in the middle of the game? Maybe the game won’t even be played? Our guys did good job taking advantage of last night’s game early and bringing up the question, “How much did this affect the Clips players?” And as I said here earlier we could of won Friday night’s game if it hadn’t been for the non call on Curry’s game ending missed three pointer. So maybe now the refs won’t be making so many pro Clipper calls or non calls??????

    April 28th, 2014 6:52 am

  9. Dennis

    The reaction to what Donald Sterling said bothers me more than what Donald Sterling said. Is there racism in the world? Of course there is, always has been and there always will be. But my problem is this, how can you have an honest discussion about race, as I have heard more than one black leader request, when you cannot be honest about your feelings without getting skewered by the same people asking for honesty.

    The reaction to Sterling tells me that racism is better left swept under the carpet. You can be a racist as long as you don’t say it. I just don’t see this issue being resolved if there is a tremendous price to be paid for being honest.

    April 28th, 2014 7:16 am

  10. Brady

    I don’t think it’s fair to label Sterling’s comments as “private.” He gave instructions to a significant other (who he presumably compensates with tickets) not to bring black people to games.

    Sure, the comment itself was made in private, but it was an instruction to impact something public. It’s the same as if he had told his sales rep not to sell tickets to black people.

    There’s a privacy difference between expressing to someone that you have prejudices, and instructing them to act on your own misguided beliefs.

    April 28th, 2014 7:57 am

  11. Brady

    Dennis – one player (i sadly can’t remember who) made the point that prejudice still exists, and that’s okay. They pointed out that if Sterling had openly stated that he has some prejudices, that would be different. But Sterling wasn’t expressing a feeling, he was taking ACTION. He was asking someone to keep black people away from his games.

    It’s the difference between someone saying that they don’t think gays should be allowed to marry, and someone refusing to work with gay coworkers.

    We all have prejudiced thoughts, but actions speak loudest. Even though Sterling was talking, this still constitutes an action, because he was actively seeking discrimination.

    April 28th, 2014 10:34 am

  12. Stan

    lol,cmon Dennis..”racism is best left swept under the rug” ?. So,it can manifest itself without interruption? Without the recording..maybe Sterling gets his way and African Americans are not sitting courtside. We are back to the Master and his kind watching the bucks run and jump high for the masters entertainment.

    April 28th, 2014 11:59 am

  13. Dennis

    Stan, I didn’t mean to imply that racism should be swept under the rug. I meant that it is being swept under the carpet because you can’t talk about it without people flying off the handle. It seems, based on the reaction, that it is much better for everyone to believe the world is a wonderful place and then get real upset when they find out that that isn’t true.

    April 29th, 2014 10:48 am

  14. Brett

    Lowell, been away for a while and have a question.

    What in the world does Cliven Bundy have in common with this situation? Did I miss something?

    May 6th, 2014 10:10 am

  15. CohnZohn

    Brett, he and Sterling are racists.

    May 6th, 2014 10:19 am

  16. Brett

    Lowel…did not know that

    May 7th, 2014 12:56 pm

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