Merlene Davis: What does the NAACP see in Clippers owner Donald Sterling?

Herald-Leader columnistApril 28, 2014 

Revelations from the lips of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who for 20 years has refused to pay his tab to the federal government for grazing his cattle on our land, didn't surprise me.

He said, with unabashed authority, that he saw half a dozen black people sitting on a porch when they should have been working. From that, he concluded that black men don't try to get a job and black women abort their babies.

He then followed that foolishness by "wondering" whether blacks weren't better off in slavery than being beholden to the federal government for subsidies.

That from a man who hasn't paid his grazing fees for two decades.

Fortunately, Bundy was knocked out of the recent news cycle by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who reportedly told his former girlfriend, V. Stiviano, who is of black and Mexican heritage, not to associate publicly with black people.

On a recording that TMZ posted on its website, Sterling is allegedly heard saying someone told him that Stiviano had posted a photo of herself with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson on Instagram. "It bothers me a lot that you want to pro ... broadcast that you're associating with black people," Sterling allegedly said. "Do you have to?"

The voice continues, saying she shouldn't walk around with black people or put photos on Instagram for "the world to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games," Sterling says.

That was confusing to me, but not a great surprise.

People who follow sports more than I do say that Sterling, a real estate mogul in Los Angeles, has a history with his employees, with renters, and with the federal government of not embracing diversity.

In 2009, he and his wife agreed to pay nearly $3 million to a fund for blacks, Latinos and families with children who were allegedly harmed by their discriminatory practices. The payment was the largest ever involving apartment rentals, but Sterling denied the allegations at the time.

Also in 2009, Elgin Baylor, who spent 22 years as the Clippers' general manager, sued Sterling for wrongful termination and discrimination on the basis of age and race. Baylor later dropped the race accusation, and a jury ruled in favor of Sterling in March 2011.

And in 2005, Sterling settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of former employees and tenants, who said they were fired or mistreated because they weren't Korean.

So there is a history there.

What does surprise me, however, what has given me pause, is why the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP gave Sterling its lifetime achievement award in 2009 despite all the controversy surrounding him and that same chapter had planned to honor him again next month. Fortunately, they have changed their minds.

What is up with that? What in Sterling's past said he deserved that award?

Records show the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation has given more than a few grants to that branch of the NAACP and its president. In return, Sterling was praised in the media for giving free tickets to young people who had never seen a professional basketball game.

I understand that raising money is hard during these times. Folks just aren't writing as many checks as they once did.

But when your organization represents "the advancement of colored people," I would think you would choose as your honorees folks who think the way you do and have evidence to show it.

The first award came at a time when the Sterling name was connected to discrimination on at least two fronts. He got it anyway.

Come on, now. There has to be some kind of standard here.

How many infractions does a donor have to commit before his money cannot buy an award? And how long can an organization pass out honors to suspect recipients before it draws negative attention to itself?

Just how much is a reputation worth, whether it's that of the donor or that of the group?

There was so much evidence in Sterling's past that indicated where he stood. The NBA overlooked it. The fans overlooked it. The players overlooked it. And so did the NAACP.

But that group has said it is looking out for the interests of the players, the fans and the rest of us. And for the most part it has. The NAACP has won some tremendous battles that have benefited minorities and women. Some of its members have died doing that. For that, it deserves our respect.

But my respect will be lost if I ever discover that the NAACP or its chapters had reduced black people to dollar signs, putting a price tag on my humanity and dignity.

That would make that venerable organization no better than Sterling himself.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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