SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – To paraphrase Captain Renault’s immortal line from the film “Casablanca”: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that a sports team owner is a jerk!”
It is laughable to watch pundits far and wide demand action right now against the buffoon who’s owned the Los Angeles Clippers since 1981. He’s been an embarrassment pretty much since Day One. It doesn’t take much digging to find the long record of allegations against Sterling–or the things he’s said and done on the record.
But now, suddenly, not only are we shocked to hear what appears to be Sterling’s own voice uttering this garbage–but the people who work for him are supposed to have done more? Really?
It’s not as if we haven’t seen this act before in the history of pro sports in America. Marge Schott. Calvin Griffith. George Marshall. Heck, even the felon George Steinbrenner. There are others, of course, for in America, we seldom apply a morals test to wealth. Every now and again, the insular world of pro sports will block someone from the club (Major League Baseball repeatedly prevented reputed organized-crime figure Edward DeBartolo from acquiring a franchise before the NFL let him buy the 49ers), but in general, money talks.
Let me be clear: I don’t condone what Sterling is reported to have said in the present controversy any more than I condone his past behavior. He’s a boor, a jerk, an embarrassment. When his behavior becomes actionable, it’s appropriate to make him pay for it. Former Clippers GM Elgin Baylor sued Sterling five years ago, alleging age and race discrimination, and lost in a jury trial.
But I question the notion that those who work for Sterling are somehow aiding and abetting his behavior. Plenty has been said and written since this story exploded about how Clippers coach Doc Rivers and his players should be taking more of a stand. Many have suggested that Rivers–widely considered to be a decent man and a brilliant coach–somehow compromised his integrity by accepting Sterling’s money to coach the Clippers.
My response: what a crock. Ask yourself if you’d really be prepared to walk away from your job because your company’s CEO was a jerk. Do we expect actors, musicians, carpenters or auto salespeople to take a moral stand about their bosses’ behavior? Are they somehow complicit because they choose to accept a paycheck to ply their trade?
What should happen now? Obviously, the NBA needs to suspend Sterling (as baseball did with Schott). Beyond that, President Obama’s advice seems worth heeding. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance,” said Mr. Obama, “you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk.”
Or maybe Pete Townshend got it right when he wrote the last line of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”: “Let’s forget you better still.”