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The basketball bigot requires a response from more than his own league

Donald Sterling and his friend
Donald Sterling and his friend
Washington Post/ AP

It wasn’t just about the man’s brutish verbal treatment of the extraordinary African American athletes who have helped grow his treasury in tandem with his ego. He clearly disdains the humanity and aptitude of his youthful mistress, has no respect for his marriage, and generally dwells in a byzantine mindset of malice and misogyny.

We seem stained with a toxic blend of commerce and contempt.

He’s a singular, decidedly vulgar billionaire who doesn’t understand that freedom of speech does not serve the freedom to hate. Singular because, unlike innumerable other spoiled men of privilege and power, he happened to be caught on tape. There is no doubt that he speaks for many other gilded goons in a society that appears more lacerated by bigotry and derision than at any time in modern memory.

This column applauds the swift and decisive reaction of the Commissioner of Basketball, Adam Silver. By banning the scoundrel for life (an action that may ironically yield the big mouth a windfall in profit as he peddles his long-tortured team), Silver demonstrated expeditious leadership and conviction rarely seen or heard in this equivocal nation of politicians, preachers, and social thespians. We seem stained with a free-flowing, toxic blend of commerce and contempt.

Percolating just underneath our trademark American optimism is a menacing, creepy insolence directed at people with dark skin, or meager funds, or an actual need for health insurance. There is, in our nation, a generalized anxiety about the heartily approving tone of our hierarchy of systemic patriots. I’m a patriot myself and I weep a bit when singing “God Bless America” or viewing the US flag flying above our consulate in Rome or Bangkok. It’s hard not to love home especially when you love it enough to despair of its flaws.

Commissioner Silver did the right thing in banishing the malevolent owner from the very landscape of the National Basketball Association. There were business considerations, and elements of political craft in the commissioner’s decision, but it was not a disingenuous act. In this era of Congressional gridlock, presidential vacillation, and the deadly cynicism of the automotive industry, it was a well-executed bolt of lightning.

So now, what are you and I going to do about the smoldering racism and bigotry of this culture? Applaud the NBA and then go on with our business even as we forced to accede to the mercurial and dubious price adjustments of the petroleum cartels?

No! You and I cannot deliver punishing edicts upon bigots any more than we can contain our own occasional slides into discriminatory feelings or unseemly words. But we can seize this moment and teach others who listen to us, our children, our students, our professional colleagues, and, yes, even our parents: this will not stand!

Mr. Sterling can sell his team but we will not sell our souls.

Order my new book, 'DANGEROUS FRIENDSHIP: Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King Jr., and The Kennedy Brothers'

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