Racist Donald Sterling Is Distracting Everyone’s Attention From Sexist Donald Sterling

Written by Travis Waldron

The racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling — exposed in audio recordings obtained by TMZ and Deadspin — have elicited a sharp reaction both inside and outside the NBA. Players as prominent as LeBron James have declared that there’s no room in the league for Sterling. Owners and media figures have echoed. And in a testament to the 24-hour global news cycle in which we now live, the issue took mere hours to reach President Obama half-a-world away.

The NBA has launched an investigation, the preliminary results of which may be announced at a news conference Tuesday, and it seems Sterling has little chance now of surviving as the owner of the Clippers for much longer.

This is all a good thing. There isnt room, or at least there shouldn’t be, in the NBA for Sterling, and anyone who espouses the ignorance and hatred he put forth in those tapes deserves as much public rebuke and ridicule as possible. But lost in the discussion about the visceral racism on display in those recordings is another important point: they weren’t just racist. They were sexist too.

Perhaps Sterling’s words weren’t as explicitly sexist as they were racist, but listen to the recording and it’s hard to miss if only because the sexism exists so closely to the racism. While demanding that his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not bring black people to his games, Sterling makes it clear that he doesn’t care if she “sleeps with them” or “f***s him” (referring to Magic Johnson). He demeans her directly, calling her “stupid” and repeatedly telling her she doesn’t understand what he’s saying. He refers to her as a “born fighter” — “all you ever want to do is fight” — while telling her that they should end their relationship because he needs “a girl that will do what I want.” He wants her to conform to what it is he thinks she should be, a “delicate white or delicate Latina girl” (she’s biracial) because she doesn’t know “what people think” of her. At no point is it evident that Sterling views Stiviano as anything else but his temporary trophy, his property, a woman who should conform to what he wants rather than who she is. He’s a bully and a misogynist.

If those words don’t jump out as problematic on their face, they certainly should once put into the larger Donald Sterling context.

ESPN’s Peter Keating, Amanda Younger and Alyssa Roenick detailed Sterling’s abhorrent history with women in 2012: in 1996, a former employee sued him for sexual harassment. The woman alleged that Sterling “offered her clothes and an expense account in return for sexual favors.” The suit alleged that Sterling often “touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable and asked her to visit friends of his for sex.” In addition, Sterling has used the Clippers to hire “hostesses,” whom he evaluated based on their looks at his own home. One later said that “working for Donald Sterling was the most demoralizing, dehumanizing experience of my life.” He later testified that he paid another woman for regular sexual favors and said, “When you pay a woman for sex, you are not together with her.” He’s asked female employees to hook him up with masseuses who will provide sexual favors. It seems obvious from his history that Sterling views women as vehicles for his own enjoyment rather than as actual human beings.

The racial nature of Sterling’s comments brought to light, belatedly, his history of racial discrimination both in his real estate dealings and as owner of the Clippers. In the last decade, he has faced multiple housing discrimination lawsuits from the federal government and an employment discrimination suit from his former general manager too. And it has raised questions about why the NBA didn’t act sooner, why Sterling was allowed to proceed with impunity even amid federal probes and lawsuits from people he employed.

We should be asking the same questions about the sexual harassment cases and the already-public details about the way Sterling treated women in his employ. Why didn’t the NBA take action? Why didn’t the media call on the NBA to do something? Why did the NBA allow a man with long list of allegations that he harassed and exploited women to continue along as if nothing had happened?

That’s not to say the racism present in Sterling’s words and history should take a backseat to the sexism that’s there too. But both issues need to be addressed, because the structural problems that allowed Racist Donald Sterling to remain in power aren’t much different from the forces that helped Sexist Donald Sterling stay there too. While both women and African-Americans have made substantial gains in employment in the league in recent years, both remain underrepresented particularly at the league’s top levels. There’s only one black majority owner; no women serve in that role. The number of vice presidents, team presidents, and top-level team and league officials who are either female, black, or both is relatively small. African-Americans make up nearly 20 percent of the NBA’s radio and TV broadcasters but a small number of sports journalists as a whole; women make up just five percent of the league’s radio and TV broadcasters, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, and many of the most prominent women in the basketball media are sideline reporters or studio anchors with less freedom to opine and freewheel on issues like this.

All of this matters. When women and African-Americans (or any other group) lack broader access to the positions of power that give them the voice or platform they need to help foster changes on issues that affect them, it shouldn’t be shocking that such change doesn’t occur. Booting Sterling from the league, as the NBA seems wont to do if it can and as many have called on it to do, won’t necessarily fix that. To really address the issue of systemic and incidental racism and sexism in its game, the NBA needs more voices of the people who are affected by both issues. And it needs them in places where they can challenge the powers-that-be when they refuse to act on people like Sterling. That doesn’t just go for the NBA — it goes for the media that let him skate for so long too.

It shouldn’t be solely the problem of women to address sexism any more than it should be solely the problem of black people to address racism. The racism on display deserves the attention it has gotten and more. That burden should fall on perpetrators and enablers more than on victims. But having diverse voices in positions of power makes it easier to identify and address those problems to keep them from happening again, and in that sense, one aspect of the larger battles against racism and sexism in the NBA is similar even if the issues themselves are often different: neither African-Americans nor women have the access they should have, and so both are too often left out of the decision-making process when it comes to dealing with a person like Sterling the first time instead of the third, fourth, tenth, or twentieth. An NBA with more minorities and women in positions of power would still have racist, sexist Donald Sterlings who think they are above reproach. But in such an NBA, it’s less likely that a man like Sterling would prosper for so long as if nothing at all was wrong.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: The News & Observer Facebook page


Mauvette Joesephine
Catherine Fisher3 years ago

David S. you have a point.
But he's a public figure and this was TOO OFFENSIVE. Some stuff wasn't private, he's like a repeat offender and all we're doing is using our free speech to critisize him.

Elvira Winkler
Elvira Winkler3 years ago

Really ugly on the inside and Really ugly on the outside!

I wonder if he ever looks at himself in the mirror...YUCK!

Ron G.
Ron G3 years ago

Funny too, is that for those who consider his words a private conversation, it must have been that old "disrespect" that was in the room to record it.

Ron G.
Ron G3 years ago

I personally take great satisfaction in knowing that a man like Sterling, and there are many of them, don't get hugs of love from individuals but rather embraces of their wallets. That is not respect.

scarlett g.
.3 years ago

DAVID S. Your post is well expressed....IN ADDITION,....How quick we are to take a stand against "certain" individuals for their opinions or actions, while others go about their day getting away with similar "nasties"....RAPPERS. and their foul lyrics, the Reverend,Jeraimiah Wright and his church rantings about AMERICA, and Obama`s comments on his" WHITE" mother in his writings.....just to name a few

David S.
David Scharf3 years ago

This guy thought he was having a private conversation. He was on a jealous rant. This is not a Free Speech issue, since that covers things said in public. This was a private conversation that should have been ignored (since there was no crime committed) by the Media; but they took it, fanned it, and made it into a media firestorm. So no one is allowed to have a politically incorrect private conversation? Will this extend to what we believe or think too? We don't need "Big Brother", as it seems that ordinary people are filling that bill. Too much hypocrisy here. Who among us has never said something in private that they would never want the world to hear? All of us, I bet! We had better watch out because the thought police are next,

For the record, I do not like this guy. He seems pretty sleazy, But its not about what this guy believes, being right, wrong, racist, or whatever. Its about his right to think and say whatever he wants in private and the media's and public's readiness to invade that privacy and judge him so quickly. He should be judged on what he does and says and does publicly! This isn't Nazi Germany and we are not Gestappo. If people want tolerance for themselves, they should be ready to allow that same tolerance in others--even when they do not like or agree with them. And by the way, isn't his (betraying) girlfriend a minority?

J C Bro
J C Brou3 years ago


A F.
Athena F3 years ago

Thank you, we need to continue the fight against sexism. It's everywhere, and it won't be easy, but we can do better every day.

Jan N.
Jan N3 years ago

When it comes to sports, his sexism would never gain any traction for action. We've established he's a scum bag, do we really need to count the ways?

Anne Moran
Anne M3 years ago

Give him the boot, and make sure it's the pointy end of it....