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Dear R*dskins Stars: The Clippers Show You Don't Have to Fear Your Owner (UPDATED)


Dear R*dskins Stars: The Clippers Show You Don't Have To Fear Your Owner (UPDATED)

UPDATED: The Clippers' website after the ban was announced.

UPDATED: The Clippers' website after the ban was announced.

Most weekends, the only races talked about in sports are the kind that take place on the track or at the speedway, the sort that are won by an eyelash by the fastest humans on the planet, or that are contested at speeds over 300 deafening miles an hour by the fastest drivers. This past weekend was not one of those.

Two well-publicized series of events, one in California and the other in eastern Spain, have pushed race to the forefront of sporting conversations around the world in a way not seen since the O.J. Simpson trial.

If you haven’t yet heard, here’s what went down in California. Late Friday evening, in the midst of an incredibly competitive first round of NBA playoff games, celebrity gossip outlet TMZ released an alleged audio recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. A White multi-billionaire with a history of prejudicial statements and actions against people of color, Sterling allegedly told his mistress to stop publicizing her relationships with Black people on social media, and to stop bringing Black acquaintances to Clippers games. An attorney for the now-former mistress, a woman of Black and Hispanic heritage legally known as V. Stiviano, has confirmed the recording’s authenticity. A statement from the Clippers organization in defense of Sterling does little to deny that the voice making the racist comments is actually his. TMZ subsequently has released a second audio recording and claims Stiviano has over 100 hours of recordings of her chats with Sterling.

Condemnation has come swiftly from pundits, current and former NBA stars, and even President Obama. The most intriguing response, though, has come from Clippers players themselves. After discussing the matter internally and rejecting the idea of a boycott, the players staged a silent protest against Sterling’s comments before their Sunday playoff game in Oakland versus the Golden State Warriors. They shed their warm-up suits, emblazoned with the name Clippers, and left them together in a pile at center court. This act revealed that the players’ usual red t-shirts underneath had all been turned inside out, obscuring the Clippers name. They wore black armbands and black socks during the game as an additional act of protest, somewhat echoing Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' actions at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

It’s worth noting that it was not only the Black players on the team who took part in these actions. Head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, who is also Black, described the solidarity: "It shouldn't be [about] African American men. We have two White guys. It's about being human. We're not going to get into what race we are, because we represent each other .... No one was happy about it. J.J. Redick [who is White] was just as pissed as Chris Paul [who is Black] and that's the way it should be.”

What a powerful statement on racial solidarity, about “the way it should be”! Rivers’ White players, who could have hidden behind their White privilege and refrained from criticizing the man who signs their paychecks, refused to do so. Instead, they empathized with their Black teammates and the pain of African Americans, so much so that Rivers couldn’t tell who was more upset, Redick or Paul. Such a spirit of solidarity is highly instructive. But more on that in a moment.

On the other side of the world this past weekend, Spanish soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona was playing an away game versus Villarreal CF. In the 75th minute, Barcelona’s Dani Alves, a Brazilian of mixed African and Latino heritage, was preparing to take a corner kick when someone hurled a banana at him from the stands. It’s a racist act meant to call a dark-skinned player, in essence, a monkey.

Such awful acts are not uncommon in some parts of Europe. Racism still has widespread explicit expression on the Continent, and spectator sports there see no shortage of racist incidents. Not only do dark-skinned soccer players report bananas hurled at them on occasion, but more frequently, racist fans target them with monkey noises.

Racist words and acts are so problematic in European soccer that occasionally, dark-skinned players have walked off the field during games in which they've been racially abused. Teams have even been penalized for their fans' racist behavior by having sections of seats or even the entirety of their stadiums closed to spectators for a later home game.

There are even legal ramifications in countries where racist speech is punishable under the law. In the United Kingdom, for example, a racist remark from one player to another becomes not just a public relations problem, but also a matter for the courts. Racist tweets could even land the tweeter in jail. Yet even with all these measures and more, progress against racism in world soccer continues at a glacial pace.

But as part of that battle, the viral video of Alves’ response will be replayed for years. Knowing exactly what the banana means when it lands before him - because he’s experienced it before - Alves leans over, picks it up, peels it, and wolfs it down. He then proceeds to calmly take the corner kick. (In a turn of poetic justice, Barcelona ended up coming back to win the match, with Alves playing a key role. Further, Villarreal CF officials stated the next day that they had identified the fan who launched the banana and banned him for life from the club’s stadium.)

A global wave of solidarity from other soccer players has quickly arisen, with numerous star footballers, both those with and without African heritage, taking selfies while eating bananas and tagging their tweets and Instagrams with #SomosTodosMacacos (“We Are All Monkeys”) or #NoToRacism. As in the case of the White Clippers players, the effort to stand together with athletes of African ancestry is instructive.

How is all of this instructive? It sets an example. It gives blueprints of possible ways for professional athletes to stick up for their racially oppressed fellow human beings, both those on their teams and those who are not.

My mind quickly jumps to the Washington R*dskins in American football. R*dskins players have been hesitant to wade into the controversy about the team name, which R*dskins owner Dan Snyder adamantly tells himself and everyone else is an honorific, but which most every dictionary says is a racially denigrating slur. Perhaps R*dskins players are seriously afraid of Snyder, or the keep-the-name R*dskins fans, or both. Why else would star cornerback DeAngelo Hall quickly back off his statement that the team "probably should" change the name? The day after his comments to Mike Hill, he added that he loved the name and that whether the name should be changed was "out of [his] pay grade."

There's actually a pattern of current and former R*dskins players saying something about the team name, and then quickly "clarifying" their remarks shortly afterward. Star quarterback and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III really scrambled around a question on the name early last season, even saying at one point that the team had been instructed not to discuss the issue. (He later clarified, as did team senior vice president Tony Wyllie, that there was no team directive against players commenting on the issue. This, of course, begs the question - who told the players not to talk?)

Even retired R*dskins legends Darrell Green and Art Monk, after saying that a name change should at least be discussed, clarified a day later that they opposed a name change.

At least the current players’ hesitation may be understandable, because who wants to criticize his or her boss publicly? That’s usually a bad career move. But the Clippers players are doing just that, with the White players standing in solidarity with their Black teammates, each of them “just as pissed” as the other at their owner’s comments. And soccer players around the world, though not criticizing their club owners, are standing against the racism experienced by fellow players of African ancestry. They don’t have to; they could also hide behind their privilege. But they’re doing it, standing with those who are ethnically different from them because they care about their dignity and value. It’s a very powerful statement.

So to Robert Griffin III, DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss, DeAngelo Hall, and the other members of the R*dskins football club:

Like the White players on the Los Angeles Clippers, and like banana-chomping soccer players the world over, you have the amazing opportunity to powerfully demonstrate your solidarity with oppressed people! Will you please stand with Native American peoples and push, both publicly and privately within the organization, for a new team name? For those of you on the team who are men of color I ask, is it not enough that Native peoples have suffered genocide and ethnic cleansing at the hand of our government? Must they continue, Sunday after Sunday, in broadcast after broadcast, to hear a racist term that belittles them? Can you empathize, having experienced discrimination in your own lives?

To do this will require courage. It will come at a cost. Your owner and management may seek retribution in some way. Many fans of the team who want to keep the name will turn against you and call you ugly slurs as well. But you will be doing what is good and loving and right.

History will remember you as being the ones who took a stand. I will remember you as athletes who transcended the game and helped to make the world in which my daughters grow up into a more just and kind one. I trust it’s the sort of society you’d want your kids to know as they grow up, too.

I am convinced that the courage you show on the gridiron will help you in this challenging endeavor. You have my support, my prayers, and in advance, my gratitude.


Eugene Hung

UPDATE: Convinced through their own investigation that the recording is authentic, the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, announced a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling from NBA activities, as well as a $2.5 million fine, the maximum permissible under NBA by-laws. Silver also stated his confidence that he'll get the necessary votes from other NBA team owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

U.S. soccer international Jozy Altidore summed up both the California and Spain situations this way:

Dear R*dskins stars and legends - I believe in you! Like the Clippers, you can take on your owner and win!


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