From the pick-up basketball player in the White House through the ranks of professional players, broadcasters, and armchair analysts, the reaction to racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been swift and sharp.
During a press conference Sunday in Malaysia, President Obama said what has been attributed to Mr. Sterling were “incredibly offensive racist statements.”
“I don’t think I have to interpret those statements for you,” Mr. Obama said. “They kind of speak for themselves.”
“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything,” he added. “You just let them talk.”
On an audiotape obtained by the website TMZ, a man reported to be Sterling is telling a woman – reported to be Sterling’s girlfriend V. Stiviano – not to broadcast her association with black people or bring black people to games.
The man specifically mentions Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on the recording, saying, "Don't bring him to my games, OK?"
By Saturday, team officials were responding to the wave of criticism, suggesting that the audio tape had been altered, that the tape had come from the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family, and emphasizing that the controversial comments – real or concocted – were “the antithesis of who [Sterling] is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.”
Here is the full statement from L.A. Clippers president Andy Roeser:
“We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape – who we believe released it to TMZ – is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’ Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them. He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him – both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter.”
The NBA is investigating as well.
"All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday night. "The core of the investigation is understanding whether the tape is authentic, interviewing Mr. Sterling and interviewing the woman as well and understanding the context in which it was recorded."
Ironically, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is scheduled to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award at its 100th anniversary event next month. The NAACP’s national office is now urging the L.A. branch to withdraw Sterling from its honoree list while the investigation continues.
“We also suggest that African Americans and Latinos should honor his request and not attend the games,” Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP California State Conference, said in a statement.
Sterling, a real estate owner, bought the Clippers in 1981. In November 2009, he agreed to pay $2.73 million to settle allegations by the government that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks and to families with children. The US Justice Department sued Sterling in August 2006 for allegations of housing discrimination in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.
The Sterling controversy comes the same week that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy – in a dispute over grazing fees on federal land – made what were widely interpreted as racist remarks about “the Negro.”
In his news comments Sunday, Obama cast the Sterling controversy through a broader prism of racism in America, adding that "we constantly have to be on guard on racial attitudes that divide us rather than embracing our diversity as a strength."
"The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation, that's still there, the vestiges of discrimination," Obama said. "We've made enormous strides, but you're going to continue to see this percolate up every so often. And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently, but also remaining hopeful that part of why statements like this stand out some much is because there has been this shift in how we view ourselves."
Obama said he's confident NBA Commissioner Silver will address the matter. He said the NBA has "an awful lot of African American players, it's steeped in African American culture. And I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this."
This report includes material from the Associated Press.