Amy Donaldson: Clippers' response to racists remarks reminds us taking the high road is always the most healing path
Marcio Jose Sanchez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The comments were disgusting.
The questions since TMZ released a recording that purports to capture a conversation between Los Angles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and a female friend haven’t been whether or not his comments are offensive, racist and hurtful.
The question, which remains, is what to do about it.
While new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver insists the league is investigating, the players, coaches and fans are left wondering how they should handle such offensive statements.
I’ll admit my initial reaction was extreme.
When the players opted to silently protest comments they believe their owner made about them, I didn’t feel like it was a strong enough statement. I thought they should refuse to play for a man who saw them as unworthy to attend a basketball game with someone he cares about.
Thankfully, they had better leadership. And on Sunday afternoon, Clippers coach Doc Rivers and his players showed us how to be better people, even in the face of grotesque ugliness.
The players simply dumped their warm-up shirts in a pile at center court. This revealed their shooting shirts were worn inside out so the Clippers logo wasn’t visible.
They didn’t talk about it with reporters, choosing instead to remain silent, even on social media, and let their coach deal with what is so much more than a distraction.
While outsiders urged Silver to take action quickly, and to make a statement by suspending and heavily fining Sterling, the players simply did their jobs.
Other players spoke up for them. Others expressed outrage. Former NBA greats Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Heat forward and superstar LeBron James and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.
Columnists urged quick, severe action that would make a statement that racist attitudes are not tolerated in a league that’s 78 percent black (according to a 2012 study) — the highest of any major professional sports league in the U.S.
But the players and coach took the high road. After Sunday’s loss (118-97) to Golden State, Rivers addressed the difficult position that his players face.
"Our message is to play," Rivers said. "Our message is that we're going to let no one and nothing stop us from what we want to do. And I think that's a good message. I really do. I think that's the message we're trying to send. And if we can pull this off all the way, I think that would be a terrific message."
Some insight can be gained into how Rivers is leading his players through this difficult and emotional situation from his son’s Twitter account. Jeremiah Rivers talks about the violence his family has faced because “of the color of my dad’s skin. We lost everything and had to start over.”
His dialogue reminds us that responding to racial issues is never simple. With less than 140 characters at a time, Jeremiah Rivers reminded us that fighting fire with fire only leads to everyone being burned. Using hate to combat hate only leads to more divisiveness.
“Did we hate the collective of people, culture and race (whose) skin was responsible for our hardship? No.” he wrote. “One man cannot have the power to make me feel hate towards a group, race or another person's skin color.
"Nor would I allow them to have the power over me to not support the players and coaches that have done nothing wrong.
"Hate the man all you want, show him no mercy if you must. But the players who put on that jersey do it because (they) love basketball.
"They want to win for the city of L.A., for (their) families, friends, fans and themselves.
"Racism isn't born, it's taught. It is the refuge of ignorance and seeks to divide and destroy. The Clippers need the people, fans, and city of L.A. more then ever. The team deserves it.”
The players union, which is without an executive director, looked to Sacramento mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson to help address the matter with Silver. He called this a “defining moment” for both the league and Commissioner Silver.
The truth is life is made up of defining moments. Every time someone says something hurtful to us or someone near us, we have an opportunity to respond in a way that heals and educates. Or in a way that destroys and divides.
That’s what Jeremiah Rivers was alluding to in his message. Thankfully, Sterling’s sentiments are no longer acceptable. It’s easy to speak up and to speak out against them.
The far more difficult task is to continue to talk in productive and meaningful ways about issues that separate and scare us. And always take an opportunity to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. We’re far more likely to need support than retribution for it is in the hand of friendship that we are lifted and sustained.
If you’re wondering whether to reach out or speak up, I suggest taking a cue from a man who knows something about being a pioneer dedicated to taking the high road — Jackie Robinson.
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.”
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