“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
By electing to play in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, the players and coaches of the Los Angeles Clippers did themselves and the league a massive disservice. Even in the wake of hideous, racist comments made by team owner Donald Sterling, the only form of protest the players could muster was removing their warm-up jackets, wearing their warm-up shirts inside-out, and sporting black arm bands.
Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 and has been known to be have racist views throughout most of the time he has owned the team. He’s been the defendant in multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination. That being said, this is not about Donald Sterling. This is about us as people. The free market that we enjoy gives us the power to influence what people like Sterling can get away with and Mr. Sterling has been enabled for many years by many people. Players have never refused to play for him. Coaches have never refused to coach for him. Fans have never refused to show up for games. It’s simple economics. If someone opens a pro-Nazi coffee shop down the street, buy coffee somewhere else. A business can only thrive if enough people are willing to support it.
Elgin Baylor even worked as his vice president of basketball operations from 1986 to 2008. That’s 22 years! He eventually filed a lawsuit claiming that he was discriminated against based on his race and age (he was 74 when he resigned). But that’s only after 22 years on the job (a job he held despite the team having a record of 607 wins and 1,153 losses during his tenure). I don’t doubt that Sterling was horrible to work for, but even the dimmest of us shouldn’t take 22 years to realize it and do something about it.
Despite the fact that they have far less to lose than athletes in the past, modern athletes have the luxury of doing nothing when it matters most. Muhammad Ali was willing to sacrifice title belts and a ban from boxing because of his stance on the Vietnam War. But the difference between athletes like Ali and athletes today is that Ali had conviction in his beliefs despite the potential consequences of them. Ali certainly had his supporters, but he also got hate mail and death threats on a daily basis because of his beliefs.
Today’s athletes don’t face the same consequences. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin would still be allowed to play basketball and make commercials, even if they had chosen not to play. There is not a threat, as there was for others in the past, of society turning them into pariahs. They would have the support of a vast majority of the public.
It’s hard not to empathize with the Clippers, but they appear to have decided that their quest of winning a championship trumps doing what is right. The cruelest irony of all is that, even if they do win, Sterling does, too, and they will be tied to him forever. They should question whether or not that’s how they want to be remembered.