Feb 24, 2009

Massa Sterling and Uncle Elgin Go to Court

I find it hard to feel sorry for Elgin Baylor. It's not that I'm heartless, but my lifelong investment in realness forces me to keep sentimentality at bay when thinking about a situation that should have never reached this point.

What I am referring to is the racial discrimination lawsuit recently filed by former NBA great Elgin Baylor against his previous employer Donald Sterling, owner of the perpetually miserable Los Angeles Clippers. Baylor was the General Manager of the Clippers for 22 years, before being fired by the organization last year. In his lawsuit he is alleging that Sterling created a "southern plantation-type structure" in the Clipper organization, accusing the owner of a "pervasive and ongoing racist attitude." What is this, Mandingo?

Ken Norton in Mandingo (1975)

It's not that Baylor's claims don't have weight. They most certainly do. Donald Sterling has been sued twice in the last six years for housing discrimination in connection with the many apartment buildings he owns throughout Los Angeles. That's right, housing discrimination! That's so last century. Sterling was sued once by the nonprofit Housing Rights Center and more recently by the United States Justice Department. And let me be clear, it was not the newly installed Obama Justice Department that sued Sterling, but the politicized Justice Department of George W. Bush, run by his ole "do boy," as they say down in the dirty, Alberto Gonzales. It is not as though the Bush Justice Department was known for its aggressive approach towards pursuing discrimination, quite the contrary, so Sterling's offenses must have been ridiculously obvious. A trial date is set for 2010.

Donald Sterling "sizing up" former Clipper Elton Brand?

What has long been most disturbing about Sterling's record with discrimination charges is the fact that very few people even know about it. In an NBA where the least little infraction on a player's part is headline news, an owner can be charged twice with advocating the kind of discriminatory practices that would have kept the African American players on his team from living in his buildings, and no one really even knows about it. Can you say double standard?

If an NBA player engages in flatulence, someone in the media and the league office will have pronounced judgment on the foul smell before the lord gets the news, but all you get when you bring up the allegations of Sterling's discriminatory practices is a shrug of indifference?! People's perceptions of the inherent criminality relative to NBA players is so extreme that if a player gets robbed at gun point it is automatically assumed that the player himself is somehow responsible. Yet Donald Sterling can act like he's a modern day Lester Maddox and it's all good?! C'mon now...

Donald Sterling should have been suspended by the league a long time ago, until his trial is completed, and if he is found guilty he should be forced to sell the team immediately. Though he settled in the first lawsuit, with the results sealed, the fact that he has been charged twice in a three year span with the same thing says to me where there's smoke there's fire. For the NBA not to have acted on this is negligent at best. At worst, it is an unspoken endorsement of such acts by virtue of allowing Sterling to remain a valued member of the NBA ownership fraternity in good standing. David Stern and Sterling's fellow owners are all complicit in this for not making it a bigger issue.

All this is to say that I have no trouble accepting the accusations made by Baylor against Sterling. Again, it is a known fact that smoke often signals fire and Sterling's smoke signals are so thick that it's hard to breathe. That being said, I still can't feel sorry for Elgin.

Why would you stay on a job for 22 years under such conditions? Elgin, through his lawyers, says that he suffered the indignity of racism because there were so few African Americans in executive positions in the NBA that he felt that he should endure this so that others would have a better opportunity. Ok, Jackie Robinson, if you say so. While the NBA is far from perfect, the league has more African Americans in visible positions of power than any other professional sports league. This has been the case for a long time now. Both the executive ranks and the ranks of coaching are filled with African Americans. Baylor is no one's martyr and to say so is disingenuous. This is all on him.

As one of the game's early superstars, Baylor had other options. He accepted the criminally low pay that the Clippers offered him. He allowed himself to remain in such an environment for 22 long years. This was by choice, not by force. To have willingly stayed on under such circumstances and then to turn around and charge racial discrimination is not only cowardly, but it is the type of response that makes people question legitimate claims of racial bias when they arise. I guess no one ever told Elgin that Jim Crow ended a long time ago and that he didn't have to accept this unfair treatment?

I'm sorry, but the reason I never had love for Anita Hill was because she followed Clarence Thomas from gig to gig, in spite of the fact that she says she was a victim of sexual harassment. I'm not defending Thomas, by no means, but at some point, one's actions, or lack thereof, make them complicit. This doesn't excuse the offending party, but it does compromise the claim in my book. The same is true with Elgin Baylor. As jive as Donald Sterling might have been, Baylor didn't have to work for the Clippers, certainly not for 22 years.

Unfortunately there are no winners in this one. It's not surprising. The Clippers are one of the worst franchise in professional sports, so the concept of winning is not something normally associated with this club. It appears now that the losing atmosphere is indeed the result of having a real loser as an owner. Donald Sterling is a disgrace to the game of basketball. But Elgin Baylor is a loser as well, not only in regards to his terrible record as GM, but also for letting himself be punked in this manner. Baylor was complicit in allowing Sterling to treat him like a second class citizen, when other options were available to him. Elgin Baylor demonstrated an amazing lack of pride and dignity here.

If it is true that Donald Sterling wanted to create a modern day plantation on the basketball court, Elgin Baylor most certainly served as his willing house slave through all of this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Been there done that have you? Do we recognize that sometimes we work in an organization to mitigate some of the egregious problems that may otherwise be worse for others? Can we talk about every other workplace. It's not just the Clippers. Sterling is just public.