Last October, Yale lecturer Erika Christakis sent an email questioning whether university administrators should advise students on what Halloween costumes to wear. It resulted in protests on campus and a heated debate around the country.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks about African-Americans. Reaction from the NBA, players, advertisers and fans has been swift; we discuss the personal, social and economic costs of racism.
- Craig Steven Wilder professor of American history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities" (2014)
- Michael Eric Dyson university professor of sociology, Georgetown University; MSNBC political analyst; author of 16 books including, "Debating Race with Michael Eric Dyson" and "Race Rules"
- Michelle Bernard president, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy; author of "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013."
- Christine Brennan national sports columnist, USA Today and on-air sports contributor, ABC News; author of "Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Commissioner Adam Silver announced yesterday that Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA. He was caught on tape making a racist remarks about African-Americans. Meanwhile, in Nevada, rancher Cliven Bundy is under fire for racist remarks he made to the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the NBA's decision, Cliven Bundy, and what their statements imply about race relations in America, Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, Christine Brennan of USA Today, and Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from Cambridge, Mass., Craig Steven Wilder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I'm sure many of you will have your own thoughts and ideas. Do join us. Call us on 80-433-8850, send an email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all for joining us.
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDThank you.
MS. CHRISTINE BRENNANThank you.
PROF. CRAIG STEVEN WILDERThank you.
REHMGood to see you all. And before we begin our conversation, let's hear a little bit of the NBA commissioner's statement yesterday.
MR. ADAM SILVERThe views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league. Effective immediately I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.
REHMChristine Brennan, how unprecedented was that statement?
BRENNANDiane, Adam Silver is a rookie commissioner. For many, many people -- most people probably, this is the first time they've ever laid eyes on him. This is, of course, a huge moment for him in his third month on the job. And he nailed it. He threw the book at him, you know. He tossed the bum out. All those things that we -- our dads and grandfathers, grandmothers, whatever, told us about sports when they did things like that, well, they did it.
BRENNANAnd I thought it was bold. He was measured. He was angry. He was every man or every woman. He was saying the words and saying them in the way, in the manner, that many of us would have wanted to say, had we been given that podium and that moment.
REHMHe also fined him $2.5 million.
BRENNANThat's the most he could fine him. I mean, that's a slap on the wrist for a billionaire or whatever.
BRENNANBut that's the most he could do. Bottom line, Diane, Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA, did the absolute most he could do. He banned him for life, kicked him out of any NBA or Clippers activity forever. And, of course, said he must be thrown out of his ownership. That's as good as it gets.
REHMNow, how likely will it be that he loses ownership?
BRENNANWell, I hope very likely. Obviously, we don't know. But you need -- three-quarters of the owners have to vote him out. My sense is, it's, of course, the right thing to do. These comments are reprehensible. They're unacceptable in the 21st century. You know, I think that's been said and I will continue to say that, as I know that my esteemed colleagues will here. But I think also for a business decision. Let's look at it from that way.
BRENNANThese are owners who are making a lot of money. And the bottom line is hugely important to them. Well, Donald Sterling is now a pariah. He is toxic. He is a hindrance to the bottom line. They cannot afford the talk of boycotts. Can you imagine, if this man, Diane, were the owner of the Clippers next season?
BRENNANAs the season starts out, the boycotts, the threats, that's just -- for many reasons he shouldn't be, but it would be bad for business. Hopefully, that will resonate with these other owners.
REHMBut is it then more about money than morality?
BRENNANIt shouldn't be, but none of us was born yesterday. So with these owners I'll bet it is because, of course, many of them have been around Donald Sterling. They may well have heard him say these things in the past. We certainly know he did these things in the past. There's a great history here. This man is a serial racist. He's a serial sexual harasser. And they've know it for a long time. So, you know what? He's gone and that's good. But it's a bit of a mess on how it all happened.
REHMMichael Eric Dyson, what do you think? A bit of a mess? More about money than morality?
PROF. MICHAEL ERIC DYSONOh, it's about money. Because the morality didn't get invented overnight. And the problems didn't get produced overnight. So as Christine Brennan has expertly summarized, Mr. Sterling has been known quite well, in an informal sense. There, you know, the formal findings were, of course, he was a racist against black and Latino and people, given the greatest fine in the history of this country in terms of the Fair Housing Act, $2.73 million for calling black people stinky and keeping black and brown people out, and finding ways to otherwise harass them.
PROF. MICHAEL ERIC DYSONSo he's a sexual harasser, he's a racial harasser, settling suits, I think, or being charged with sexual harassment. So the reality is, the bottom line is the other owners, we don't know what they think or believe. Could some of them share beliefs, not having been caught on tape? We think now they have been forced. The supporters and the people who have put forth the money have backed out. That means the bottom line has been touched. Mark Cuban had a Paul on the Damascus Road conversion.
PROF. MICHAEL ERIC DYSONOne day he's talking about a slippery slope, the next day he's standing on solid ground. My God, what a conversion experience he had, because it's about the cash.
REHMSo if it's about the cash and if it's not about morality, what took the NBA so long?
DYSONWell, the reality is they weren't threatened with the cash. The bottom line wasn't threatened the way it was with this one. I'm not suggesting there was no morality. Adam Silver was a mensch. He stood up, he articulated the principles. You know, if David Stern is John F. Kennedy, then Adam Silver is LBJ. John F. Kennedy has the charisma, the brio, the oratorical skills. LBJ just stays so-called, you know, red-necks guy from the South. But he did more for black people than any president since Lincoln.
DYSONAdam Silver, in one fell swoop, did more to heal the tarnished relations between a black league -- all of those white men, with the exception of Michael Jordan and the Indian owner, have made money as white men on the backs of black labor for low these many years that this league has been disproportionately 80 percent black. So the reality is the morality was present, but the bottom line hadn't been challenged in such a fashion that the morality had to be brought into play.
REHMMichelle Bernard, what was your reaction? Was it enough?
BERNARDIt was as much as he could do. I mean, I have to say I sat back and watched it and I was so pleasantly surprised. I hoped Adam Silver was going to throw the book at him, but we've all seen this time and time again where people say it's too soon, I can't go too far, this is the most we can do, you can't take a man's property from him. So when he stood up there yesterday, I mean, I think we need to give him his due. He was strong. He is a young man. I think he gave us the voice of morality.
BERNARDMoney and morality both had something to do with it, but this was a very important and moral decision for him to make. You know, Diane, I have a little boy, who the pediatrician tells me is going to be 6'7". He's very tall. And for years, everywhere we go people will say to me, "Oh, your son is so tall. He can play basketball."
BERNARDAnd from day one I have always said my son will never play basketball. He will own a team. And the reason I have always said that is what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said very aptly earlier this week when he called it irritable plantation master syndrome, in terms of what we have seen happening in the NBA. And more and more people, I think, have been saying that these -- what the players do, it's magical. It is beautiful, but the real power is in the ownership. And how much would I love to see Magic Johnson owning the Clippers.
REHMCraig Steven Wilder, talk about the history of the NBA's dealings with race. Why do you believe they allowed someone like Donald Sterling to go unchecked?
WILDERWell, let me say, I think the commissioner yesterday actually took moral responsibility for the stage that sports occupy, professional sports, in American society. And it was one of the first times that we've ever seen a major league sports commissioner take that position and take it so openly and stridently. But what allowed him the space to do that was the economic threat that Donald Sterling presents to the rest of the league, that Sterling, as has been said, has become toxic.
WILDERAnd I think the reason that the owners have protected him, the reason that the league has protected him for, you know, two decades now, almost three decades, is the same reason that major league baseball protected Marge Schott for 15 years and allowed her to continue to spew venomous statements into the public arena. And it wasn't until -- it was 15 years later. It wasn't until she actually started reasserting her interests and admiration for Hitler that they finally actually moved against her decisively.
REHMBut now, let me take this one step further, is this a defining moment in race relations in this country? Or is this -- will it be defined as two men, older men who have a different sense of what our society actually is, Craig?
WILDERThe danger of actually thinking only about the really quite nasty and ugly misogynistic and racist comments that Donald Sterling made, is actually that it allows us to think that punishing Donald Sterling actually solves the problem. It doesn't. The NBA, in fact, has a lot of housecleaning to do. And I think they have a commissioner who potentially has the courage to do it. But that involves really looking at the owners and holding the owners as accountable as they hold the players.
WILDEROwners of major league sports franchises have never been particularly willing to police themselves and to police their behavior. And they've, in fact, actually tended to crowd together and protect themselves and hide the bad behavior of their collective class.
REHMCraig Steven Wilder, he's professor of American History at MIT, author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd clearly there are major issues here that we're discussing about racial issues, not only in sports but far more widespread in our society. On the line with us from his office in Cambridge, Craig Steven Wilder, professor of American history at MIT. Here in the studio, Michelle Bernard, president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy, author of the recently released "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013."
REHMMichael Eric Dyson is university professor of sociology at Georgetown University. And Christine Brennan, national sports columnist at USA Today. Christine, I want to come back to you and ask you if you would connect what happened in the sports arena yesterday to the statements of a gentleman in Nevada whose ranch he felt had utilized public land for generations was entitled to it.
REHMYou had many Republicans supporting him for a while and then he comes out, makes racist statements to the New York Times and politicians back away. What do you see as the connection between sports and what's happening in the rest of the world?
BRENNANDiane, I think it's a matter of communications. And having these statements reach the outside world, bubble to the surface and come out and be heard by more than a few people. I'm not an expert obviously on the political ramifications and all that. I'm a sports columnist of course, so I don't know the inner workings of the Bundy story.
BRENNANBut from an outside view, as you've described it, all of a sudden this hits the news and everyone runs away from it. And then I think the parallel, the common denominator is exactly what we're talking about, a taped -- an audio tape hits the news. And I know there are those out there maybe listening to us right now who are concerned about the process, how a private conversation got a man -- got Sterling in trouble. My point, it would be the same as Adam Silvers was, it became public and here we are.
BRENNANAnd also if you're a public figure, you better be prepared to handle things in a different manner than someone who's not a public figure. And also Donald Sterling's been saying this for years and it just now -- we've got this evidence now. But I think that's it. When it reaches the public, all of a sudden everyone realizes, oh this is terrible but they've acknowledged it, accepted it, maybe even nodded their heads and agreed with it in private.
BRENNANAnd I think it's great because now we get a chance to see these things. We get a chance to discuss them. These are wonderful important conversations for our country to have.
REHMCraig Wilder, there's also been some discussion about the name of the Washington Redskins and the battle with Donald Snyder over that issue. Does that come in here as well?
WILDERI think it does in the broader conversation about race in American sports and what it is that sports represent to the American people, the American nation. The obligation that athletes and the owners of professional teams have to speak to the salient and important social questions that confront us. You know, don’t' Sterling, you know, is a troubled figure. But one of the most troubling aspects of those tapes, if you listen to them very carefully, is that actually part of what he's saying resonates with the NBA's public position.
WILDERFrom the 1980s well into the 2000s in which the league was heavily invested in the idea that it had to change its image as an overly-black, a too-black league. And blackness not as a counting of the number of black players on teams or the proportion of black players in the league, but a cultural statement about white viewers, white fans and markets not wanting to buy a product that was associated with the sort of negative ideas that surround African American people, and particularly young black men from urban areas.
WILDERIt was very much like the way we talk about Latino baseball players today. And so I think sports leaders, athletes and owners have every obligation to speak to these issues. And certainly the name of the Washington team is an offense that needs to actually be dealt with publically by the NFL. The NFL needs a commissioner with a kind of moral fortitude that the NBA commissioner just showed.
REHMWhat do you think, Michelle?
BERNARDOne of the things that resonates with me so much in this area where we have to separate sports from politics is that Adam Silver did something that very few presidents of the United States could do, or that members of congress would have the leadership skills to do. He really nailed it right on the head because we know that we haven't seen it economically yet. Say if you're applying for a job as a teacher or as a neuroscientist or you're applying to college or medical school or law school somewhere, sports has been really the only true meritocracy in terms of race in this country.
BERNARDAlthea Gibson was good enough, Arthur Ashe was good enough, Jesse Owens was good enough. Every time that we saw whites try to take away from African Americans the ability to succeed and excel in sports, they were unable to do so. And if you were to allow someone like Mr. Silver to retain his leadership skills and his ownership of the team, it would basically be saying to most African Americans and others -- and by others I mean those who are not white -- that there really is no prospect for any type of meritocracy in the United States today.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting, Michael. Should the NBA or this board of governors amend its laws to prevent the sale of teams to owners who have kind of a track record of racism, racist remarks, racist behaviors?
DYSONWell, certainly. They probably feel that already implicit in their negotiations in terms of the vetting process that they would, of course, find it reprehensible that an owner would express at least explicitly such racially opprobrious beliefs as Mr. Sterling has been found out to do in private. And let me say just very quickly, kind of a round robin, to what Ms. Brennan said. She's absolutely right, some people are sore that the side chic is the one who revealed the main preoccupation of the man.
DYSONWell, what's interesting there, if the formal process of legitimate governance were able to produce the facts and the consequences that should -- down to those facts, then we wouldn't need a woman who's a quote "gold digger" to dig for the gold. And the gold wasn't the cash. The gold was the revelation of his racial paranoia and his psycho sexual fear of black men.
DYSONLeading to what Professor Wilder talked about, the disciplining of the black body in sports, particularly in the NBA -- I mean Allen Iverson speaking of D.C. sports comes in at Georgetown. He comes into the NBA, a couple tats and then he gets a lot of tattoos and the corn rows. Oh my god, this is the hip hop culture that is polluting American society.
DYSONThere was a strict dress code that was imposed upon those players by David Stern to try to clean up the game and clean up his image, not that they didn't have any problems, but to clean up the image. And then that leads to what Michelle Bernard said finally that this is a meritocracy. The ostensible objectivity of the sport is who's ever good enough to play? That's why white men outside of the U.S. have dominated over white men within the U.S. Eastern European players more numerous than the white players. We might need a Larry Byrd exception for affirmative action for white men to be able to play in the NBA in America.
REHMBut wait a minute, Michael, talk about the NAACP. Did they turn a blind eye here?
DYSONA blind eye, a deaf ear, a bald head. I mean, you know, nostrils that were perfumed. They were ridiculous. And look, the NAACP is quick to point out Rick Ross or Little Wayne, one of its own. You write black rappers as having a problem. We cannot award you this award because you are morally reprehensible. But they let a man like Donald Sterling, who is publically committed to principles that subvert their own understanding of race, to give him a lifetime award, not once but twice, 2009.
DYSONIt's not like it was 50 years ago and they said, hey it's time to give him another one. They were playing the role of, if you pay the cash we gonna hook you up.
BERNARDWell, that's exactly what I was going to say. We talked about where or not it was morals or money. Well, here, you know, with regard to the L.A. Chapter of the NAACP, morals have nothing to do with it. It was money, money, money, money and it is just an absolute shame. But quickly going back to the quote unquote "girlfriend," I think that it should be -- we would be remiss if we don't mention the fact that she herself is a minority. She is Afro-Mexican...
BERNARD...thereby standing for everything that this man could not stand. And I really hope that we don't end up seeing her on "Dancing With the Stars" or getting a book deal or, you know, somehow being able to earn a lot of money because of what she did also.
DYSONShe's a heroine to me.
REHM...you say the Sterling controversy is a big deal but not nearly as big as what's going on with the rancher Cliven Bundy. Why?
WILDERWell, I think they're both big deals but what's happening with Bundy is we're using and we're allowing a conversation about race to obscure some very real and important conversations we need to be having in American society. The gathering around Cliven Bundy of a group of extremist organizations from the Oath Keepers to militiamen who have, in fact, a kind of apocalyptic vision of the future of the United States, in which they're moving toward an existential confrontation with the United States government under the claims of individual sovereignty that in fact deny the right of the American people to be sovereign.
WILDERSovereignty doesn't rest in self-described, self-proclaimed small groups. It rests in the American people themselves and so their claim to sovereignty, or in fact, an attack upon the sovereignty of the people of the United States. And I think this is a very dangerous thing that's happened.
WILDERBut it's also been allowed to become -- it's been mainstreamed by a media presentation which has created Clive Bundy as a kind of Robin Hood, which he's not. And created the situation as one that could be easily disarmed and easily undone if the government would actually simply give up its right to govern, which is ridiculous, irresponsible and dangerous.
REHMMichelle, how do you see the two as being connected?
BERNARDWell, they go hand in hand because I think what we are seeing, as I have said before on the show, that since President Obama was elected in 2008 -- you know, and again I've said before, I was one of those people who said, we're in a post-racial America, and oh my god was I unequivocally absolutely wrong. And we are seeing from every -- from one generation after another, it really doesn't matter the age group, people are beginning to feel a lot more open about their racist attitudes.
BERNARDCase in point, there was a movie out. I'm sure somebody -- if you didn't see it you have children who saw "The Hunger Games." And in one of the earlier versions of the book and the movie a young African American girl dies. And early on there were stories on NPR and elsewhere of the Twitter feeds of 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds who were absolutely angry that the heroine of "The Hunger Games" was an African American child. And we saw young children using the N word to refer to this woman. And I think that all of this is showing that we have a very serious race problem in the United States that needs to be address and addressed very openly.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. I want to hear what our callers have to say and let's go first to Beth in Fort Worth, Texas. Hi there, you're on the air.
BETHHello. How are you?
REHMFine, thank you. Go right ahead, please.
BETHWell, first I want to say I gave a donation. I was thinking about you this morning.
REHMWell, that's very kind.
BETHAnd you're one of the reasons why.
BETHI love you to death. You're welcome. I want to know if the -- I know -- I was looking up code of conduct for the NBA. I could find one for the licensees, the people that sell things to the NBA. I could find one for the players, but I cannot find one for the owners.
REHMWhat do you think?
BRENNANYes, Beth. I don't know and I would need to look it up myself, but my guess is that owners can do pretty much whatever they want.
BRENNANWell, I mean, I've covered the NFL for years and we used to say that they were -- some of them, some, not all were nouveau riche truck drivers. And that might be being mean to truck drivers, I don't know. Because obviously we were having fun as we were saying this, but we're talking -- there are some wonderful owners in sports and there are some not-so-wonderful owners in sports, as we've seen this week.
BRENNANAnd it's pretty tough to slap a code of conduct on those zillionaires who want to do what they want. You know, we were talking a little bit ago about the Washington NFL team nickname, which is a cause of mine and I think actually may be reopened in light of what this commissioner did versus what Roger Goodell has not done.
REHMInteresting. All right.
BRENNANBut Dan Snyder, the owner of the team here, you know, he says I'm never changing that.
BRENNANSo -- but others might know more but my sense is that you can pretty much get away with anything if you own the team.
REHMAll right. To Barbara in Lexington, Mass. You're on the air.
BARBARAHi, Diane. I think that the panel today is fantastic. My point was kind of an echoing of an op-ed piece this morning in the Boston Globe. And that piece talked about First Amendment rights. And it essentially it gets to the issue of how high the bar needs to be raised if you're in an environment such as the NBA, right, that has its own bylaws. It's essentially a very rarified club.
BARBARASo first of all the issue is, so the guy, reprehensible as it was, spoke out of turn off the cuff thinking his comments were private. If a CEO did that he might stay in as the CEO, right. Unless the board boots him or shareholders revolt, he can stay in that position. Is the bar set too low? Is the vetting process bad in the NBA when they approve a new owner? Or is it really a function of because the NBA is 76 percent Afro-American, should that be the bar? So my point really is responding to the op-ed piece this morning.
BARBARAWhat are the standards that -- versus First Amendment rights? Should the guy -- should Sterling have been allowed to stay in unless he was voted out? I mean, I think that the NBA did the right thing but I'd got to the issue of First Amendment rights.
REHMAll right. Craig Wilder.
WILDERWell, I'm not a constitutional law expert, but I will point out that, you know, we should remember that the entire Bill Clinton scandal began with taped phone messages that were released to the public. And so this is not new in American society. You know, I think the critical question here is that once it was made public, the league was under an obligation to act. I also think the players were under an obligation to act and to stand up for their right, and dignity of athletes -- the right of athletes to work with a certain level of dignity and respect in their professions.
BRENNANWell, and just following up, Barbara...
BRENNAN...I thought that when you asked about the CEO and would they survive, I think they would've been gone overnight. They -- it would've not been 72 hours. It would've been about five or maybe five minutes. That's our new world.
REHMChristine Brennan, national sports columnist at USA Today. We'll take a short break here and more of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about racism in America. Statements made by a team owner, statements made by a rancher, statements made all over the country. However, I do want to say that yesterday we did talk to a First Amendment rights lawyer who informed us that because these statements were made in private that they do not come under the First Amendment.
REHMHere's what the New York Times said. Silver, who said he is confident -- this is the NBA commissioner who said he is confident that he has the necessary votes to end Sterling's ownership, though no timetable has been set, is broadly interpreting at least one clause in the constitution which initiates termination if the owner fails to fulfill his or her obligation in such a way as to affect the association or its members adversely. Christine Brennan.
BRENNANWell, I think that, again, we say a very strong commissioner. And we saw someone who, even though he works for the owners, he took the reins. And so I do think that -- I do think Sterling will be gone. I don't think he will be around anymore. You know, Diane, though I will say this, I think the NBA has more work to do. For example, Isaiah Thomas, obviously a hero to many for his basketball skills in college and in the NBA, is a convicted sexual harasser. A jury awarded 11.6 million to a former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders back in 2007.
BRENNANIsaiah Thomas' despicable behavior -- well, I've seen him all over TV the last 24 hours talking about Donald Sterling. I've seen -- Isaiah Thomas works for NBA.com and NBA television. How is that allowed? How is that possible?
BRENNANSo I'm not minimizing the racial aspect of this. I've written two columns. They've been 100 percent about the racial aspect of this. But as a side note that is quite an important side note, someone like Isaiah Thomas is still around the NBA. And he did this awful thing, obviously terrible illegal thing, sexual harassment. How is he still around the NBA?
REHMAll right. Let's go to Rick in Elizabethton, Tenn. Hi, you're on the air.
RICKGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
RICKI just wanted to -- I'm concerned about the implications of this. Obviously what Sterling said was reprehensible. And I don't believe that society is willing to tolerate it for much longer. But what happens a month from now when a player is recorded in a private conversation using some of the same language that we would take offensively from Sterling? Is the result going to be the same for a player as it would be -- well, for a black player as it would be for a white owner?
REHMWhat do you think, Craig?
WILDERWell, I think first we don't actually have to use a hypothetical. We actually have examples of players actually making these kinds of statement across the professional leagues and players get disciplined all the time. You know, the reality is that the owners have enjoyed -- I don't worry about Donald Sterling's due process. The owners have enjoyed remarkable protections that they give themselves. And there's no greater protection than being guaranteed a trial before a jury of yourself. And that's pretty much how the owners have protected themselves over time.
WILDERPlayers actually -- there's actually a structure for governing the misbehavior of players in the professional leagues. I also want to add that, you know, the great social questions of our moment are not going to be decided in the war between the millionaires and the billionaires. But we can actually learn something from these moments about the nature of our society and the structural depth of racism and misogyny in our society.
REHMAll right. To Bruce in Baltimore City, Md. You're on the air.
BRUCEGood morning, Diane. So, you know, I really try to be an open-minded and fair person, but there are a lot of times there is a lot of double standards. But the one thing I'm going to talk about is the punishment. So I don't know exactly all the details of what the owner of the basketball team said, but from what I understand it was pretty stupid, it was moronic, it was a private conversation. And there's also some kind of conflict going on in a relationship with two women.
BRUCEBut here's the thing, what would've been reasonable pragmatic punishment this is what I would've suggested. Suspend him from operations -- all operations with the team for one year. Recommend that he go through some type of sensitivity or psychological counseling. And then maybe if that's legally possible, bring him for a hearing and talk with him and then play it by ear. But instead -- I'm going to say this -- a lot of these so-called civilized people, and particularly the progressives, are going to use him as the poster boy and a whipping boy to further their dogma on racism.
DYSONYeah, well, consider me in. The reality is it's not dogma. It's discretionary learning. It's engagement with a history of racial malaise that has rarely been spoken about honestly. And as Professor wilder said, we don't have to cry, you know, any tears for Donald Sterling. He's 82 years old. I don't know what kind of sensitivity training is going to reproduce in his remaining years. And we don't know if we can teach an old dog new tricks.
DYSONBut beyond that, the double standard language is interesting here. If a black person uses the N word -- and maybe that's implicitly what he's speaking about, let me make it explicit -- that's a big difference than David Duke using it. Because there's a history of white supremacy that has lynched black people, that has castrated black men, that has relegated black people to the margins of society and has used the law to contain them. That's different than black people trying to use a term of reprehensible epithetical nature as a term of endearment.
DYSONBut now there are many black people who disagree with that. There's vigorous disagreement among black people about whether we should use that word but the NAACP considered burying the word. But given their track record with Donald Sterling, we see why the N word came back with a vengeance three days later like Jesus rising again and remaining with us for the duration of our time.
DYSONSo I would simply say to my friend on the call is that Donald Sterling's activity is not simply a moronic activity. It is representative of the deeply entrenched racial biases that prevail. And he had -- not only in terms of the NBA -- Craig Wilder said millionaires versus billionaires -- look at what happened when he had say-so over the lives of ordinary black and brown people in his apartment buildings. That's the greater crime and that's the malaise we have to be honest about.
WILDERYeah, absolutely right. I think, you know, you have to understand that, you know, there's a tendency in our society -- this is the great double standard. Donald Sterling gets to be treated as an individual whom you can then humanize and sympathize with and create excuses for. But all those black people and the brown people, the black and Latino people whose lives he actually changed by denying them the fair opportunity for housing are groups. And the tendency to speak about wealthy white men as individuals and all the rest of us as groups is the greatest double standard in American society.
BERNARDThe one thing I would say to the caller also is that there is due process in place for Donald Sterling, just like there is in every other aspect of American life. If we do not punish his words -- when words like his are not punished, when words like the fellow out in Nevada are not punished, that's how we get to the murder of Trayvon Martin. That's how we get to a congress that does not believe that the Violence Against Women's Act should be reauthorized. That is how we get to immigration laws in Arizona and states all over the country where they say that if you are Hispanic we are giving sheriffs all over the country permission to engage in racial profiling.
BERNARDThat's why what Adam Silver did yesterday was so important. He put a nail in the coffin of overt bigotry that we're seeing in laws all over the United States of America.
REHMAnd here's an email from Liz in Maryland who says, "I hope you will connect the dots between the recent Supreme Court's decision, Justice Sotomayor's dissent and the Sterling Bunting (sic) grotesque utterings. Justice Sotomayor had her finger on the real pulse of our nation's underbelly." Would you agree with that, Craig?
WILDERYes, I would absolutely agree with it. I think, you know, the idea that race is a historical problem and not a contemporary one is an escape from reality. And we're painfully reintroduced to that reality, not just with Donald Sterling's words but with his actions, with the real damage that he's done to people's lives throughout his career and has actually be able to walk away from over and over again. And so I think it's absolutely right that, you know, those words from the Justice in her descent were a remarkable statement about the continuation and the vibrance of race in American society today.
DYSONAnd I think, look, it's the continuum too. I think what's important about that email is that Paul Ryan's comments about lazy black people implicitly or brown people in the inner city, the urban element, drawing from the -- a validly racist, you know, scholarship of a person like Charles Murray who's been taken on by scientific thinkers and other sociologists.
DYSONSo there's a continuum between Paul Ryan's comments there, the Bundy comments about black people and slavery, Donald Sterling's comments about black people, and connecting that to what Michelle Bernard talked about as the truculent truths that are revealed in the Trayvon Martin situation or violence against women. There's a continuum in this country that has to be engaged. Because it's not explicit doesn't mean it's not real. Because it's not out in the open doesn't mean it doesn't fester. And because it's individual doesn't mean it's not also institutional.
REHMChristine Brennan, why isn't the constitution of the NBA, why aren't those documents open to the public?
BRENNANThat's a good question and maybe someday they will be. I mean, I think this is one of those moments, Diane, that is a watershed, that is a sea change. We will be talking about what Adam Silver did yesterday and how he did it and that appearance 50 years from now.
REHMBut think about Sandy Hook. Think about the gunnings there and the killings of children and how we all said, this is a turning point.
BRENNANYes, yes, although, I mean, as bad as what happened in the NBA, I mean, Sandy Hook is one of the most awful things I can ever remember.
BRENNANWhat I guess I'm saying here is that we're talking about a decision. We're talking about trying to move the ball forward. We're also talking about a league that for so many -- and so many of us have already been down this road and thought we were finished with it. To Michelle's point about the Obama election in 2008 and now here we are again going down this same path.
BRENNANAnd I want to say one other thing.
DYSONI think we're talking about Newtown, right, not Sandy -- Newtown...
BRENNANShe was talking about Sandy Hook, the killings...
BRENNAN...which was just so terrible. No. I mean, I just do think that we'll look back at Adam Silver in a sports and cultural context. And Newtown is just so horrible, I don't even -- I can't even speak to that in terms of -- but I do want to -- if I can get back to the idea of race, obviously I am a white person and I am offended. And I think it's very important, this is not just about African Americans being offended. It's not just with the name of the Washington NFL team about Native Americans being offended.
BRENNANI am offended and many, many millions of those who are not directly targeted by a specific comment are offended by those comments. So I almost -- I'm very -- sad is the wrong word, I'm a realist, but I'm -- it's unfortunate when we say, oh have we offended a group of people? We've offended lots of us, millions and millions of us every time something like this happens.
REHMDo you expect -- does any of you expect the President of the United States to speak out on this issue?
DYSONWell, I mean, he spoke out about it from whatever country he was in last week. I can't keep up.
DYSONHe spoke out about it very briefly.
DYSONI don't suspect that we will see another statement from President Obama about this. I think that this is the time to let Mr. Silver stand tall on behalf of the NBA.
DYSONBut he hasn't spoken before in opportune times. He hasn't done it this time and he's loathed to speak about it for a variety of reasons that are complicated. But we need his leadership and we lack it. Maybe Adam Silver has a word for also President Obama about using your bully pulpit in an effective manner. We know the man is under tremendous assault but he's got to do a bit more to help us all.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's finally go to Joe in Chantilly, Va. Hi, you're on the air.
JOEWell, hello Diane. First time on time.
REHMI'm glad to see you got on.
JOEYeah, me too. I would like to get your panel's thoughts on what Knicks great Larry Johnson said on Twitter not too awful long ago. He seemed to be asking for information of an entirely black NBA or perhaps an entirely black league in the NBA. And it struck me as odd. If we're actually citing for true racial equality in this country, then how is that sentiment not as sensitive as Sterling's sentiments on anything?
REHMWhat do you think, Christine?
BRENNANSo I missed this. He said he wanted to have an entire...
REHMAn all black ...
BRENNAN...100 percent African American.
BRENNANRight. Well, I think what we're talking about there, of course, is if you have the skill to do it or not. I'm mystified a little bit because of course if you're good you're going to make the NBA. If you're not, you're not and it doesn't matter what color your skin is. I do think it's a bit different from the standpoint of we're not talking about racist language. We are talking about a conversation about could this happen, which to me is very different than what Sterling said.
WILDERYeah, I think, you know, I'm not going to respond to one person's Twitter -- one person's Tweet. But I don't think that suggestion is all that useful. I do think there's something in there that we should be thinking about which is the assertion of the dignity of the players themselves. And one of the things that troubled me, the only thing that troubled me yesterday when I heard the commissioner's rather bold statement, was that if on Sunday evening the players had made a more aggressive and bold statement, an assertion of their own dignity, in the face of this scandal, we would've been talking about their bravery yesterday and their courage yesterday rather than the commissioner's. They would've actually been the talk of the town.
WILDERAnd I think there is a moment now where the players actually need to stand up and talk about the league that they want to create for themselves and the image that they want to project into American Society.
BERNARDI absolutely agree with that. It was wonderful to see the L.A. Lakers and the Clippers come together yesterday. The league is predominantly African American. I would have loved to have seen them take leadership of the issue earlier than they did. The great thing about the conversation is that we're not just talking about African Americans as tremendous athletes. We're now opening up the conversation about real power, and that's wealth and that's ownership of all of these sports teams so that, again, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, we can get away from this irritable plantation master syndrome.
DYSONBut, you know, what's interesting is that the players had intended to boycott the games had Adam Silver not gone through and did what he did. So I think they gave him the right to enact his own process as a commissioner. And then had he not stepped up to the plate with, you know, the requisite strength, they would've spoken out.
REHMThey would've walked.
DYSONThat's why when I asked about President Obama, this man has been under tremendous assault himself and has been a victim of some of the same vicious racism that we won't acknowledge as well.
REHMExactly. Last word, Christine.
BRENNANAgain, I think this is a -- as tough as this is, and these words were awful from Donald Sterling, it is an important conversation. And let's hope it moves us forward as opposed to backwards.
REHMIndeed. Christine Brennan, Michael Eric Dyson, Michelle Bernard, Craig Steven Wilder. Thank you all and let us hope the conversation continues. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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