“What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise … He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record.”
This quote is an excerpt from an opinion piece written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar last month. Abdul-Jabbar is the leading scorer in NBA history, scoring a huge chunk of his 38,000-plus points via his signature “Sky Hook.” With this move, Abdul-Jabbar would study his opponent, position himself in the post and in one fluid motion take a high-arcing shot that was far out of the reach of the defender trying to block it. When asked why he used the hook shot, Abdul-Jabbar said it was “the only shot I could use that didn’t get the ball smashed in my face.”
Donald Sterling’s Public Profile Speaks for Itself
While there has been a significant amount of news reported and editorial coverage in recent weeks about the scandal involving Donald Sterling’s bigoted comments and the NBA’s firm response, I believe Abdul-Jabbar’s article published in Time Magazine stands out. After reading Abdul-Jabbar’s comments, I realized we had a lot more in common than just a wicked hook shot. While Abdul-Jabbar makes many very good points in his article, where I believe he hit the nail on the head is, if you are shocked that someone like Sterling has such racist thoughts and is willing to verbalize them, you shouldn’t be! If anyone did their homework on Sterling and simply reviewed his public profile, they would know he has a history of racism, sexism and bigotry. And that this knowledge of Sterling is not some buried secret from decades past – an ugly public profile that he is trying to keep a lid on, it is hidden in plain sight within the public record and news publications. This behavior includes high-profile and widely covered lawsuits filed by the United States Justice Department for housing discrimination, allegations which Sterling settled for nearly $3 million. They also include employer discrimination suits and sexual harassment cases dating back to the mid-1990s.
Mock Surprise? Or Sudden Pangs of Corporate Conscience?
Now that Sterling’s past is once again triggering widespread outrage, sponsors and colleagues are running for the hills and distancing themselves from him as fast as possible. But why did they associate with him in the first place? Shouldn’t they have known who they were dealing with? If a business is willing to spend millions of marketing dollars to associate their brand with another organization, why wouldn’t that same business want to spend a fraction of that investment to know if their business partner shares similar values? The Sterling affair ought to be an object lesson for businesses and individuals alike to do their homework – what we’d call due diligence – before entering a business relationship with someone who has values more akin to a 1850s plantation owner than a business leader in a diverse 21st century America. And if those businesses and individuals don’t bother getting to know their would-be partners, at least they shouldn’t act surprised when the “ball gets smashed back in their face.”