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Published: Thursday, 5/1/2014


Fouled out

Donald Sterling’s boorish behavior could no longer be tolerated, in locker rooms or boardrooms

Sterling Sterling
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Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a deplorable racist whose hate-speak has no place in the National Basketball Association or any other part of American society. The lifetime ban the league imposed on him this week is proper, even overdue.

Mr. Sterling was caught on tape warning his girlfriend not to bring African-American guests to Clippers games. “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” he said. He also told her not to publicize photos taken of her with NBA Hall-of-Famer Earvin (Magic) Johnson, who is black.

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In addition to announcing the ban, the NBA fined Mr. Sterling, a billionaire, $2.5 million. He no longer can attend Clippers games and practices, visit team offices, or take part in any business or player-personnel decisions about the team. That will give him ample time to prepare to sell the Clippers quickly, and then to reflect on how his corrosive hatred has caused his empire to topple.

The NBA’s new commissioner, Adam Silver, levied the harshest penalties available, instead of hiding behind legalese to protect Mr. Sterling. That’s commendable, and sends a message to the once-untouchable billionaire boys’ club of NBA owners: It’s a new day.

If anything, given Mr. Sterling’s history of bigoted conduct, the league should have responded sooner. A 2009 article in ESPN The Magazine described how Mr. Sterling, a real estate mogul, refused to rent to black and Latino tenants. He was sued privately in 2003 and in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Justice over discriminatory practices, and paid millions of dollars to settle each case.

As the longest-tenured owner in the NBA, Mr. Sterling does not just represent himself. He spent millions of dollars to be part of a league whose player rosters are about 80 percent black.

Mr. Sterling’s repugnant rant offers a dispiriting reminder of the continuing chasm in American race relations. While great progress has been made during the civil-rights era and since, ours is still not a post-racial society, even with an African-American man in the White House.

The good news is that Mr. Sterling’s bigotry was so quickly denounced by NBA fans, players, owners, commentators, and league officials. Dozens of local and national sponsors and advertisers severed ties with the Clippers, even before Mr. Sterling’s banishment.

Commissioner Silver said that Mr. Sterling’s views “simply have no place in the NBA.” He’s right: Such behavior can no longer be tolerated in the league’s boardrooms or locker rooms. Yet while the league was obviously aware of his previous racial transgressions, he got a pass for many years.

It may be too late for the 80-year-old Mr. Sterling to change his hateful ways. But the fight for multiculturalism, tolerance, and inclusion must continue.

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