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Sterling's Racism Doesn't Tell the Whole Story

May 17, 2014

The country’s theory about 80-year old NBA Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling may be incomplete.

Everyone believes he’s a longtime racist. This is based on recent taped conversations and past accusations of racism in his other business practices.

I’ve watched the television coverage and listened to the tapes of his racist rant with V. Stiviano, his girlfriend who is 50 years his junior, and reached some conclusions.

As for past accusations, I have no idea of the facts surrounding those incidents. I listened to what the great basketball player Elgin Baylor had to say about Sterling and remain unconvinced about his charges.

Baylor lost law suits against both the NBA and Sterling when he cited examples of discrimination, including racial discrimination. Other cases brought against Sterling were more successful.

Still, Anderson Cooper's interview with Sterling was riveting and may have offered more insight into Sterling than originally meets the eye. In a rush to charge Sterling with racism, which is merited, the country overlooked a human aspect to the story.

I have no idea how to define the relationship between the 80-year-old Sterling and the young V. Stiviano. But, it’s been a two-year romantic affair and Sterling is certainly smitten by her.

Putting aside the anger associated with his words, one had to feel empathy for Sterling. He wore his heart on his sleeve and although Anderson Cooper couldn’t get his arms around it, he was genuinely hurt over losing the relationship with V. Stiviano.

What came out of the interview was a sense that Sterling was overly jealous, possessive, and protective about Stiviano. This was at the core of his racism and certainly the motive behind the words.

In Sterlings mind, he was trying to keep his girlfriend away from other men and used whatever message might work in succeeding to bring about such an outcome. This explains why he was insistently adamant about claiming he is not raciest, an assertion that astonished everyone who heard the tape.

He was nearly in tears when talking about losing V. Stiviano. He said, “I really thought she liked me.” In other words, he believed there was a romantic future for the pair and the age difference was not an issue. He went on, “In the end, we want someone to take care of us. Isn’t that what we all want?”

This was the human drama going on within Sterling’s mind. He was passionate when he spoke. He had the passion of someone young and in love. He was hurt and painfully disappointed that his relationship with V. Stiviano was ending.

In truth, most of the world would see him as foolish or misguided in such a relationship, especially if he owned up to his jealous and protective tendencies. But to Sterling, the connection between the two was real and he saw hope in the relationship.

There’s no doubt Sterling words were racist, yet the context in which he made them is an open question. This was an 80-year old man who tried to discourage the love of his life from dating other men. He was hurt by the possibility of it and embarrassed in front of friends who knew his true feelings for her.

One gets the sense that if the men V. Stiviano were planning to bring to the Clipper home games had been Caucasian, instead of African-American, he would have conjured up other stereotypes. But he still would have pitched those different sterotypes as legitimate reasons (in his mind) to dissuade her from bringing them.

He has a scornful opinion of former NBA star Magic Johnson. But to Sterling, Magic was a man with an alleged  history of bedding many women. It sounds folly, but he seemingly couldn’t bear the thought of Johnson escorting his girlfriend during or after a Clipper home game.

But it did not appear that Johnson’s race meant much to Sterling at all, he seemed more interested in keeping his girlfriend away from him, a man who has a sexual history he didn’t like, or trust.

The entire episode seemed to be about ‘date containment’, and in the process a deep seated philosophy on race came to the surface. Still, how does someone fully judge a man who was crazy about a girl and willing to say anything to keep her away from other men?

Were his statements racist? Yes. Was it his motive to be raciest? No. Is he a raciest? The answer is probably yes and no.

What we do know is, he wanted a girl and all her attention for himself and for himself alone.