The Clippers Players Were Far From Cowards in Handling the Donald Sterling Situation

Written May 8, 2014

After the racist comments by disgraced NBA CEO Donald Sterling became public, many throughout the media world and on various social networks took the Clippers players to task for what they viewed was an "inadequate gesture" and "meaningless response."

Vicious and uninformed attacks began to flood the Internet questioning the players character, heart, overall commitment and connection to their community their race and their history and the plethora of great athletes of the past who used their positions as platforms to take political stances. References to Bill Rhoden's 40 Million Dollar Slave book were in half of the articles labeling the Clippers players simply as cowards.

Once again the entire illustrious roster of current black athletes were being painted with a broad brush of ridicule.

Disparaging views about the players began popping up like dandelions in an open field, such as those in this article on The Huffington Post titled "Are The Clippers Cowards? Team's Silent Protest After Owner's Racist Remarks Met With Mixed Feelings."

Or this one in the New York Times, titled "Given Cause To Make A Stand, The Clippers Settle For A Gesture."

Or this one on Gawker, titled "Black people are cowards."

It's irresponsible to speak on something without all the necessary information required to properly evaluate a situation.

A well-informed person would have observed that the players handled the entire situation very intelligently. They were strategic in their demands and patient in their response. This is a game of chess -- it's not checkers. Unfortunately, many criticizers simply didn't understand that.

What so many people were unaware of is that after Sterling's comments became exposed to the public the morning of Saturday the 26th, the Players Association called an immediate conference call that same day of the executive board and the player reps for each team according to multiple sources, and they decided to appoint Mayor Kevin Johnson to speak on their behalf since they are still in the process of finding a new executive director.

According to Mayor Johnson, they decided to have him meet with Commissioner Adam Silver to not only voice their disgust but make a very clear demand: that Sterling receive the maximum possible punishment allowed under the by laws and that this matter is handled swiftly. Commissioner Silver assured them that he was just as disgusted and appalled by what he heard on the tape as they were but asked for the players to give him a few days for what he called "due process."  It was wise for the Players Association to give the newly appointed commissioner a chance to meet their demands and show his disgust through proper punishment. They made it clear that anything less would be unacceptable in their eyes but waited to hear the commissioner's decision while strategically preparing their next move in the event a proper punishment was not handed down.

Meanwhile, the Clippers had a game to play on Sunday the 27th, and decided to show their disgust through an act of visual disapproval by a silent protest, refusing to publicly speak about the issue. They ran out of the tunnel wearing their usual warmups. Then huddled together at mid-court and tossed the outer layer of the warmups to the ground only displaying their red Clippers shirts inside which is their team logo.

This was met with public ridicule of the players as if they had done something wrong. This served once again as additional evidence to a previously conceived notion that the modern-day black athlete's willingness to advocate for social and economic justice for all black people has diminished since the times of the '60s -- and perhaps disappeared, and that there currently exists a "vacuum of leadership" that has led to what author Bill Rhoden labeled all current black athletes as becoming a "lost tribe."

Then, Tuesday the 29, three days after the racist recordings of Sterling were made public, Adam Silver handed down the harshest punishment allowed. Exactly what the players demanded.

First Vice President Roger Mason Jr was mentioned in ESPN: "'I heard from our players and all of our players felt like boycotting the games tonight,' Mason said referring to the games scheduled for the evening of Tuesday the 29th.  'We're talking about all NBA players. We're talking about the playoff games tonight.'"

Mason said he spoke to player representatives from each team and they were on board with the decision to boycott Tuesday's games if they weren't satisfied with the commissioner's decision. The decision would have affected Tuesday's Game 5s between the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, and the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder.

I asked well-respected scholar, writer, professor and activist Michael Eric Dyson for his opinion on how the players reacted, and this is what he told me:

"What the players were prepared to do, boycott the games if need be, showed a real willingness to lay their collective reputations and fortunes on the line. For athletes who've been accused of being self-interested and apolitical, their willingness to boycott proved that they make a stand in solidarity with each other, and by extension, with all black people and fold of good conscience. I think their courage to speak out -- especially in a league that is not shy to fine players for offering criticism of officials and the like -- proved that they had placed conscience and conviction above commerce and conformity. The players proved that there is strength in unity, and going forward, they have the opportunity to leverage their influence far beyond the court of play into the ordinary lives of their fans and the issues they find important. Bravo to the players for not checking themselves out of the game of savvy and strategic protest, and for giving us a slam dunk of social consciousness that must be continued in the coming days."

That was a great analysis of the situation by Dr. Dyson. The decision made by the Players Association, to take a collective stand and demand for Sterling's immediate removal and to be prepared to go on strike during a playoff game, should not be dismissed as nominal or meaningless.

Frederick Douglass once said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand it never has and it never will."

The players were aware of this and there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Sterling would not have conceded anything if not forced.

These are not the actions of a group that is "isolated and alienated from their native networks" or someone possessing an "ignorance of the issues impacting a vast majority of African-Americans across the country."

Those who criticized and labeled the Clippers players as cowards  should apply the same vigor and thorough analysis to uncovering the positive efforts of contemporary black athletes who improve their communities and stand up for what they believe in that they do in criticizing.