NBA Racism: We see things differently


As the hearing date is set for 3rd June for the Donald Sterling case, owner of the LA Clippers accused of making a racist rant, Ahmed Sule CFA writes a rejoinder to an article published earlier this month in the Financial Times.

Mr. C. Caldwell
Financial Times
1 Southwark Bridge

Dear Mr. Caldwell,

NBA Racism: We See Things Differently

It’s been about nine months since I wrote a rejoinder to your article about Trayvon Martin , but once again I am compelled to write you another “We See Things Differently” letter in response to your article titled “ The NBA's racism drama is more about money than morals ” which was published in the May 3rd 2014 weekend edition of the Financial Times.

The central thesis of your article is, “It will be hard to discipline Sterling without ramifications for other basketball personalities.” You also argue that the punishment melted on Mr. Donald Sterling has more to do with money than morals as the NBA is a multi billion sports franchise and if an owner of a team has been found to make racist remarks, this could impact turnouts and revenue.

In referring to the discussion between Mr. Sterlings and Ms. Stiviano, which was relayed on TMZ’s website, you argue, “Offensive the audio is. But “hateful” is too strong a word.” To support your premise you make reference to a former baseball owner who said eighteen years ago that Hitler was good in the beginning. Does this then mean that a person who says he wishes all Nigerian men dead has not said anything hateful because another person said eighteen years earlier that he wished all Africans died?

You then say, “Something is upsetting Mr. Sterling very much, but it is not black people – at least not primarily. It is the Molière-esque predicament of an 80-year-old man with a young companion he cannot control.” Perhaps, you may want to do some additional research on Mr. Sterling’s past and then you will realize that he has a phobia for black people or should I say non-whites – at least primarily.

In 2003, nineteen tenants of a property owned by Mr. Sterling filed a discrimination lawsuit against him, which was settled out of court in 2005. A year later, the US Justice Department sued Mr. Sterling for housing racial discrimination, which was settled in 2009 for $2.7m. Also in 2009, an ex employee sued Sterling for age and racial discrimination. From the testimony of witnesses in these cases, it is obvious that there was “something upsetting Mr. Sterling and it was primarily non-white people.”

Sir, when people in my community examine the audio recording, we also see that Mr. Sterling is upset only this time we think that it is primarily because of black people. I also suggest that you listen to the extended version of the audio recording, which contains an additional six minutes of recording, and hopefully you will see why your assertion that Mr. Sterling is not upset about black people – at least not primarily is incorrect.

While you acknowledge that “some” of Sterling’s characterizations are racist, you appear to trivialize what he has said by arguing that the issue of race did not come into the conversation until Ms. Stiviano mentioned it in the discussion. You appear to be using the same logic you applied in your article about Trayvon Martin only this time you substitute the cause of the racist attack from Zimmerman’s bloodied head and torn clothes to Ms. Stiviano’s manipulation and rhetoric’s. For people in my community, the issue of Ms. Stiviano’s manipulative tendencies is of little relevance; what is of relevance is what Mr. Sterling said. My community is appalled when it sees people shift the burden of blame. We scratch our heads when we see people like Donald Trump arguing that Mr. Sterling was set up by his “girlfriend from hell”. Blaming Ms. Stiviano for Mr. Sterling’s racist outburst is like blaming a woman who has been raped because she was wearing a mini skirt.

You also question the admissibility of the audiotape by noting, “One would not want to lean too heavily on it in a courtroom. Nothing Mr. Sterling said violates any laws. What made the audio a problem is it angered the NBA’s players.” The relevant issue is not what law Mr. Sterling did not violate, but which law did he violate.

For people in my community and me, we see two types of laws namely the legal law and a moral law. Because someone commits an acts that does not violate a legal law does not mean that the act is right. Having seen our ancestors go through slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow and apartheid, my people often see that the legal system is stacked against us, so we have come to rely on a higher form of law that is not man made, but God made. It is through the prism of this God made law or moral code that we view Mr. Sterling’s actions. Moreover, the audio did not only anger NBA player’s it also the President of the USA who during a press briefing in Malaysia had to wash America's dirty linen in public by saying, “The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation, that's still there, the vestiges of discrimination.”

Mr. Caldwell, instead of exploring whether the motivation behind Donald Sterling’s punishment was money driven or whether his racial outburst was not illegal or whether Ms. Stiviano manipulated him to make those racially incendiary comments, we should rather commend the NBA for taking a stand. Racism is a moral scar on humanity and drastic actions need to be taken if we are to stamp out racism in the 21st century.

Why do my people always see things differently? To understand, one has to go into the history books and read about the oppression of my people. Martin Luther King put it eloquently when he said, “I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” So when it comes to the issue of race, my people will continue to see things differently. While some may see the recent NBA fallout as a drama more about money than morals, we see the recent NBA fallout as a tragedy more about morals than money.

Yours faithfully,

Ahmed Sule, CFA

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