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What every professional sports league can learn from Donald Sterling

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio is talking about the NFL learning from the debacle that is Donald Sterling but the lessons are universal.

While it remains impossible to open a window into a person’s soul to see whether the poison of racism resides there, it is possible to screen those whose words and actions suggest that they harbor such beliefs.

Donald Sterling’s words and actions suggest that he does. And the evidence existed long before TMZ published its tape of his voice.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sterling agreed in 2009 to a $2.765 million settlement of charges that he discriminated against African-Americans and others at an apartment building he owned. The Times also reports that a lawsuit filed in 2003 accused Sterling of saying “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” and that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” The case was resolved with a confidential settlement, but Sterling reportedly paid $5 million in legal fees to the plaintiffs.

Amazingly, those claims and the settlements of those claims generated little or no publicity or scorn of Sterling. If an NFL owner were accused of such conduct, the mere allegations would become major national news. If an NFL owner ever settled a case involving such allegations, the league office undoubtedly would be forced to take decisive action or face strong contentions of the existence of a double standard.

It’s all the more reason for the NFL to treat this occasion as the catalyst for ensuring that its house — specifically, its 32 houses — are in order. Existing owners should be warned clearly about the potential consequences of such conduct. Potential owners should be screened even more carefully to determine that they have done or said nothing that would suggest that their hearts are rotten with racism or other qualities that could result in their wealth and power being used to violate the rights of others.

Per a league source, NFL owners already expect Commissioner Roger Goodell to address the situation in some way at the next ownership meetings in May.

It’s often impossible to get to the truth of a person’s attitudes regarding matters of race. But the Sterling situation underscores the importance of taking all reasonably available steps to ensure that the country’s biggest sports business is doing business with people who have not only the wealth to assume such an important responsibility, but also the character.

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