On Sunday’s broadcast of Meet the Press, renowned television journalist Bryant Gumbel pointed the finger directly at the NBA and former commissioner David Stern for allowing Clippers owner Donald Sterling to get away with racist comments and behavior for years. Essentially, Gumbel stated that Stern and the NBA have been aware of Sterling’s views for decades and did nothing to discourage or stop him. Therefore, there should not be any surprise that Sterling was caught making extremely offensive comments about race.
To his credit, Meet the Press host David Gregory had three African-Americans on to start the show to discuss this controversy. Besides Gumbel, Gregory’s other guests were Rev. Al Sharpton and the NAACP’s interim president Lorraine Miller. Recently, it had been reported that Sterling was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the LA chapter of the NAACP. Miller made sure to point out on Sunday’s show that Sterling would not be receiving any such award.
After speaking with both Sharpton and Miller to start the segment, Gregory asked Gumbel what his thoughts were. Gumbel, who hosts Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO and is very aware of Sterling’s history, went for the jugular regarding the NBA’s hands-off approach to Sterling.
Bryant Gumbel, step back here. Look at this as a journalist, but also, somebody who’s seen these issues play out, particularly in the sports world, over decades. What do you make of it?
David, you know, I guess I’m surprised that anyone is surprised. I mean Donald Sterling’s reputation is such that one could say if you keep a vicious dog for a while and you know he’s vicious, you can’t be surprised when they bite someone. Donald Sterling’s racial history is on the record. It has cost him money. It cost him his reputation long before this.
And so I’m kind of amazed that anyone is surprised at this. And frankly, I’m kind of surprised that the NBA is being let off the hook on this. You know, David Stern and the NBA owners knew what kind of a man Donald Sterling was long before this. And in the same way as, although I’m not equating the crimes, in the same way as after Aaron Hernandez was charged with these felonies, people wondered why the New England Patriots had him on their roster to begin with, one can sit here and look at and say, “Well, why did the NBA allow this man to own a team when they knew what kind of a person he was?
Later on, Gumbel acknowledged that the players on the Clippers, who are predominantly African-American, shouldn’t boycott at this point. However, he did point out that fans and athletes in the future should take a long, hard look at the owners of professional sports franchises and see what causes and views they support with their millions. If they see that owners have extremist views, or support causes not in line with their own, then they should make a point in nt supporting the franchise.
Bryant, you made a larger point. Look, there are concussions in the NFL. So many African-American players in the NFL. We talk about the NBA, as Magic Johnson said, you know, he shouldn’t be the owner, he’ll never go to a game. I mean my larger question is, if you’re a player in the middle of this, in a league that’s predominantly African-American, what do you do now in the middle of the playoffs?
I’m glad you asked it, David. I mean look, I think the players of the Clippers have an obligation to play. They have a contract. It says nothing about, “Oh, you only have to play if your owner turns out to be a great guy.” I would like to see athletes and fans start taking a very good look at the owners who own their teams, and particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on how much money people can give to causes and candidates, taking a look at where their owners are putting their money.
Those owners certainly have a right to embrace the causes and candidates they wish. But I think African-American fans and players then have a right to say, “What you’re embracing is not consistent with what I believe in, and so I would rather play elsewhere, or I’d rather spend my money elsewhere.” That’s where I think people need to start looking.
Gumbel is a legend in the sports journalism world. His HBO program is the benchmark when it comes to hard-hitting, investigative sports reporting. He is a pioneer in the field. If anyone can speak on this subject with absolute clarity, it is Gumbel. He took the NBA to task for allowing a known racist to own one of its franchises and to get away with awful behavior for years. It has now come back to bite them in the worst way, as this story has come out in the middle of the playoffs. On top of that, Sterling is the owner of one of the most exciting and promising teams in the league.
Instead of fans and reporters talking about the play on the court, this story is what’s going to be discussed right now. Former commissioner David Stern and the rest of the NBA brass have nobody else to blame but themselves.