Donald Sterling Debacle: Shake Down or Shake Up?

Last week, several civil rights leaders joined me for an urgent meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to discuss the LA Clippers matter and other issues involving the league going forward. It was a necessary meeting and one where we raised key areas of concern that have actually been prevalent for years. As we led the charge to ban Donald Sterling from basketball for his alleged reprehensible comments, we were pleased to see support from Silver and others. But with a $2 billion sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, we are left with the unanswered question of what happens to the larger ideas of fairness and diversity? In short, the black community simply cannot be collateral damage of a transaction between billionaires.

When you watch a basketball game, one thing is vividly clear — the majority of players are people of color. And when countless minorities support games, NBA merchandising and more with their dollars, it is a travesty that there is only one black majority owner of a team today. What about procurement? What about the front office? What about jobs behind-the-scenes? And what about investment in the communities that the NBA profits from? Until we see inclusion across the board, equality is just a façade and a word people throw around for their own benefit when it is convenient.

Basketball is more than just a game; it is representative of what goes on in our nation on a larger scale. In so many areas we see businesses and corporations making tremendous profits from black buying power — which is projected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2015. But how often do we see those same entities recruiting, hiring, and promoting from this same constituency? We hear so much from the right wing about how government should not be giving handouts, but why don’t they say something about the private sector making huge profits without investing in the people they make money from? If we raise these very serious issues, we’re then accused of a shakedown. But the real shakedown is those that don’t do business with the black community.

I was pleased that Adam Silver met with Marc Morial (president of the National Urban League), Lorraine Miller (interim president and CEO of the NAACP), Cornell Brooks (president-select of the NAACP), Barbara Arnwine (executive director of that Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law), Melanie Campbell (president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation), Sherrilyn Ifill (president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), myself and others. But our concerns have not been fully addressed. We cannot allow billionaires and millionaires to sell us a product and despise us at the same time. We need to shake up an unholy alliance where only one side makes profits, while the other side is left balancing insults.

Whether it’s basketball, football, the music industry, fashion or corporate America, black economic support has allowed entire businesses to flourish and rake in record gains. It’s time that members of our community receive the same opportunities as others; it’s time they get called in for interviews, they get hired and they be advanced to positions of leadership. It is also time that they receive the capital to start their own businesses so that they can continue to improve economic outlook in their own communities.

While we watch billionaires make a transaction, we must keep our focus on inclusion and investment. You cannot continue to insult us by refusing to include us. The Sterling debacle is a perfect example of this unholy alliance that must be broken. The black community has enormous influence, buying power and impact in the United States. It’s time others start recognizing and respecting that reality.

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