Walter Ford

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May 3, 2014
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Ford: Lessons from the Sterling saga

What a week for the NBA. With several great playoff series keeping fans tuned in and engaged, the league also gave their viewers a saga to latch onto and a cause that most can agree with.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling became the most hated man on the planet this week because of his racist remarks during a private conversation with his bi-racial mistress.

The wild hypocrisy aside, the long-time owner of one of the most historically bad organizations in professional sports showed his true colors with his ignorant and racist rants. They peppered almost every new outlet in America, causing the new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling from the NBA for life and fine him $2.5 million.

The punishment was swift and just. Sterling will likely fight the punishment and/or justify the statements, but for now the dust is settling a bit and it’s time to take stock of the situation and look at what we’ve learned from it all.

1. It’s easy to take the high road when you have nothing to lose

Before Silver dropped the hammer with the most dire punishment ever levied to an owner in professional sports, analysts like Jalen Rose were publicly taking the high road, telling all their viewers that they would refuse to play for Sterling. Way to take the hard stance Jalen. You’re not on the Clippers so when you say that you would “literally” boycott that game, you showed real courage. To proclaim that your morals trump your need to play must have been tough knowing you wouldn’t have to follow through. Competing in the NBA playoffs is a dream come true for the players. So saying you would boycott a game is far easier to do when you don’t have to actually follow through with the sacrifice.

2. Free speech can cost you everything

I’m not condoning Sterling’s words or his beliefs as they are deplorable. But, I’m worried about the process in which his bigotry was uncovered. He has been fined millions of dollars and banned from being part of the team he owns due to a conversation he had in the privacy of his own home. The lesson to take from this is that free speech, and personal opinions can doom you no matter where it is spoken. We live in a social media driven world and should be aware that at any given time, we could be recorded without our knowledge.

3. Don’t like something, take the day off

I understand the need to take a stand against oppression and that boycotting the perceived evil is an effective way to send a message. But when the NBA Players Association came out and said they seriously contemplated boycotting games if Sterling wasn’t punished to the fullest extent allowable under the NBA constitution, it made me think.

If a publisher made a racist remark at a different newspaper that fell under the same parent company as the one I work for, would it be appropriate for me to not show up unless the publisher was punished to my pleasing? Could I say “if that publisher isn’t punished to the fullest extent, I’m boycotting.”

I would understand if the Clippers’ players boycotted or even the Warriors sat out the game because they were directly affected, but for all the other employees of the NBA to jump on the boycott bandwagon seemed like a bullying tactic to force Silver to heed their desired punishment.

4. The NBA is a better place today then it was a week ago

With all the issues I take with how the situation was handled, I think it ended justly and appropriately. Sterling’s reputation is destroyed, the billionaire has been cast out of his own franchise and will forever be labeled the ignorant bigot that he is. No one had to boycott any games and the U.S. was able to come together in a unified wagging of the finger toward a common villain. And, we can all be satisfied with that result. I just hope the response by those who subscribe to Sterlings view points don’t see this incident as a warning to better hide their racism, but an opportunity to see they are the minority now and bigotry has no place in professional sports or in our society.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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The Union Updated May 3, 2014 12:28AM Published May 3, 2014 12:26AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.