In the midst of the lifetime suspension of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling by the NBA — as well as the intent to force him to sell his franchise — a pair of voices among the flurry of reactions are zigging when most others are zagging.
The fact that both men are black — and have pointed out problems with the way the Sterling controversy was handled — make their viewpoints particularly interesting.
Whitlock, penning a commentary for ESPN, hit hard from the very first words of the column he posted Tuesday following NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s ban on Sterling: “In our zeal to appear righteous or courageous or free of bigotry, a ratings-pleasing mob hell-bent on revenge turned Donald T. Sterling — a victim of privacy invasion and white supremacy — from villain to martyr.”
Whitlock further calls Silver “a rookie commissioner” who penalized Sterling, whom Whitlock characterizes as “a flawed man whose rights were violated.”
More from Whitlock:
Mob rule is dangerous. Well-intentioned, TV-baited mobs are the most dangerous. They do not consider the consequences of their actions, and they’re prone to take a simple-minded, instant-gratification approach to justice rather than a strategic one.
Removing Donald Sterling from the NBA solves nothing. It sets a precedent that will likely boomerang and harm the black players and coaches who are shocked and outraged that an 80-year-old man with a documented history of bigoted actions also has bigoted private thoughts.
Whitlock also taps into larger issues regarding freedom of speech and invasion of privacy:
A right to privacy is at the very foundation of American freedoms. It’s a core value. It’s a mistake to undermine a core value because we don’t like the way a billionaire exercises it. What happens when a disgruntled lover gives TMZ a tape of a millionaire athlete expressing a homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-white perspective?
Abdul-Jabbar makes a similar observation in his Time magazine column, which he offered even before the Sterling suspension was announced: “They caught big game on a slow news day, so they put his head on a pike, dubbed him Lord of the Flies, and danced around him whooping.”
More from Abdul-Jabbar:
Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.
While Whitlock and Abdul-Jabbar roundly criticize the handling of the Sterling case, neither disagrees that Clippers owner was decidedly in the wrong for his statements, and both take him to task for it.
But both writers also call out larger forces at work.
Whitlock names the “white-supremacy culture” he notes will still be looming after the dust has settled over the Sterling matter: “White-supremacy culture is created, maintained and run by rich white men, Sterling’s peers. He is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA. Former commissioner David Stern had multiple opportunities to run Sterling out of the league for his bigoted actions. Sterling’s peers have always protected him … until he had the audacity and stupidity to be caught on tape explaining the culture they maintain.”
Abdul-Jabbar takes no prisoners on his beef with those still wagging their fingers: “So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.”
Following Sterling’s ban, Abdul-Jabbar said he was “just really thrilled” with Silver’s decision. “He handled it the right way,” he said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a new day here in this city.”
This story was updated to clarify that Abdul-Jabbar’s Time viewpoints were offered before the Sterling ban was announced.