Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

May 6, 2014

Lion and the Lamb: Plantation Politics

CROSSVILLE — A fascinating drama has been taking place in our nation these days. Last week Cliven Bundy, a wealthy cattle rancher in Nevada, was in the news. Not only had he been discovered to be a welfare moocher because of a refusal to pay federal grazing fees for his four-legged property, but a strong racist, as well.

This week Donald Sterling, the wealthy co-owner of a National Basketball Association team, the Los Angeles Clippers, is making the headlines. After having made some strong racist comments that were recorded, he was given a $2.5 million fine by the NSA Commissioner and banned from having any further ties to the NSA through team ownership or attendance at games.

What is going on here? Are we finally discovering a substratum of racism in our nation that deserves disapproval and penalizing? Are we coming to a new kind of awareness that there are those in our midst—who lack a social conscience or sense of moral responsibility—and that Sterling may be such a person?

Sterling's history has been a complicated one. In 1959 when he was 25, he and his wife changed their last name from Tokowitz to Sterling to make it a name easier to pronounce and remember. With a degree in law, he began to focus on real estate development and investing in rental properties. In 1981 he and his wife Rochelle bought the Clippers for $13 million. Then in 1984 he moved its franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles. (It turned out to be a good investment—the Clippers are worth $575 million today!) 

When the Fair Housing Act was passed by the U.S. in 1968, it outlawed housing discrimination, much to Sterling's displeasure. His active opposition to this Act had financial consequences. In 2003 he had to pay almost $5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Housing Rights Center charging that he tried to drive non-Koreans out of the apartments he had bought. In 2006 the Justice Department sued Sterling for allegations of housing discrimination in the same neighborhood and for making statements that black and Hispanic families were not desirable tenants. In 2009 he settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay $2.73 million following allegations that he had refused to rent apartments to Hispanics, blacks, and families with children—the largest housing discrimination settlement in Justice Department history.

Sterling's racist views were bound to clash with the culture of diversity in the NBA, as well. In 2013, 47 percent of NBA head coaches and 81 percent of the players were non-white. Sterling probably took the traditional plantation position of considering his black players to be property rather than persons (the same viewpoint employed by our slave-owning founding fathers when formulating the U.S. Constitution.

This helps explain, also, Sterling's plantation-oriented advice to his girlfriend/assistant of mixed Hispanic background that contributed to his banning: that it was OK for her to sleep with black people but that she should not bring black folk like NBA legend Magic Johnson to Clippers games (once again upholding the plantation distinction in how we recognize those who are "other"—as property or as persons). 

There are several other areas where racism in American sports also needs to be recognized and addressed. Indigenous people have been trying for a number of years to get the racist names, mascots, and other practices relating to their human dignity removed from major league and college sports. The Washington Redskins and Atlanta Braves are two such examples that come readily to mind. They have not had much success so far.

But an even more important systemic question is raised by writer Harvey Wasserman: "Why are these teams owned by individuals at all? Why do we allow our precious sports clubs to be the playthings of a bunch of wealthy degenerates? Why aren't the football. baseball, basketball, hockey and other major sports franchises so many of us so passionately love and support not owned by the communities that give them their life? Our sport franchises are public assets that we have allowed to be owned by private rich people. It's time to take these teams back. We are the rightful owners." He concludes, "There's a model out there that does work. It's called the Green Bay Packers."

Many people don't know that the Packers, organized in 1919, are the only community-owned, non-profit franchise in American professional sports major leagues. Shares were originally sold for $200; the price now is $250. No shareholder has been allowed to purchase over 200 shares to ensure that no individual could assume control of the club. The lack of a dominant owner has been stated as one of the reasons the Packers have never been moved from the city of Green Bay.

There are advantages to moving off the plantation in our thinking. Where should we start?

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