Last Friday, TMZ released audio of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend, "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?"
Like most things debated to death on the Internet, Sterling's politics and past discrimination are far more tangled than a headline or quick political blow can convey.
Deadspin published even more of Sterling's conversation this weekend, and media outlets began resurrecting old coverage of Sterling's history of fighting discrimination lawsuits. In 2009, the Clippers' general manager, Elgin Baylor, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Sterling. Baylor's complaint included an accusation that Sterling said he "wanted the CLIPPERS team to be composed of 'Poor Black boys from the South' and a White head coach." Sterling denied the claims, and the lawsuit was dropped before it went to trial. That same year, Sterling -- whose basketball team ownership was made possible by his career in real estate -- settled a Justice Department lawsuit alleging discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. It was the largest housing discrimination settlement ever obtained by the Justice Department. A similar housing discrimination case was dismissed in 2005, after a settlement was reached. If you go back further, it's easy to find more lawsuits.
Although many of these past instances of discrimination were resolved quietly, condemnation came quickly once audible proof of discrimination hit the Internet. Clippers players turned their warm-up uniforms inside out in protest. Michael Jordan released a statement saying he was, "completely outraged." President Obama said that the comments show “the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation. That’s still there, the vestiges of discrimination. We’ve made enormous strides, but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often." Education Secretary Arne Duncan was asked about the allegations today. He said, “I don’t think he has a place in the NBA and the owners are going to have to step up. The more you read about this gentleman, it seems like this is who he is. Sometimes people with money think they can make their own rules and he was about to do that for a while.”
It wasn't the first time this week umbrage over racial deafness dominated a news cycle. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy -- who was a favorite on Fox News Channel for his fight against the federal government -- was quoted in the New York Times last Thursday saying “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," and went on to discuss things he was wondering about slavery. Many posts were written about what Bundy's comments said about the Republican Party. Some Republicans have tried to return the favor with Sterling. National Review headlined a piece, "Racist Clippers Owner Donald Sterling Is a Democrat." Other conservatives were quick to follow.
GOT GAME: NYT informed the unwashed how Bundy is a Republican. Leaves out NBA Sterling is a Democrat...— MATT DRUDGE (@DRUDGE) April 27, 2014
Although Sterling is a registered Republican he has supported Democratic candidates in the past. He gave $5,000 to Gray Davis' gubernatorial campaign in 2002, and $1,000 in support of a group pushing for Proposition 2 in 2008, which sought to give farm animals larger living quarters. He gave another $1,000 to Davis in 1991, a year when he also gave $1,000 to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. In 1989, he gave $2,000 to former basketball player and Democratic senator from New Jersey Bill Bradley. If Republicans wanted to go really deep, they could also mention that Sterling attended the wedding of Jeff Greene in 2007, who ran in the 2010 Democratic Senate primaries in Florida -- to disastrous result.
In 2009, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP gave Sterling a Lifetime Achievement Award, and he won the NAACP Presidents Award in 2008. His 2009 award coincided with Baylor's lawsuit. The NAACP chapter's president told the Los Angeles Times, "We can't speak to the allegations, but what we do know is that for the most part [Sterling] has been very, very kind to the minority youth community." He was scheduled to receive another Lifetime Achievement Award this week, but the chapter changed its mind.
What does all of this say about Sterling's political affiliation? Not much -- he doesn't appear to have any deep-set ties to either party and neither party has rallied around him as had previously happened with Bundy. It also doesn't say much about the accusations of discrimination currently facing him, or contribute much to a conversation about race in America. Maybe we can return to a more constructive conversation now that we've resolved there isn't much to see here.