Sports, Racism And Idiots, And Not Necessarily In That Order….

Marc Elliott

FRENCH RIVER…. I can safely tell you that as a hockey guy, I would rather be writing about the ongoing Stanley Cup tourney in our midst. And there is a good chance that this column may wander into the abyss of our current political state. But due to a couple of incidents involving race these past few days, I can’t not touch base on this, especially since one of the incidents involved one of my favorite teams and players. That in the middle of 2014 we are still enduring this type of ugly behavior tells me we haven’t really advanced much as a species, and in fact may never do so. But as the past few years have proven, racism is still here and is as ugly as ever.
In the NBA, an owner no less was outed by a girlfriend through a leaked recording for some anti-black-American comments he has made. Vi Stiviano is the alleged girlfriend/mistress of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and he is alleged to have made comments about not wanting her to bring any blacks to Clippers games, and that he would prefer she not be photographed with any of them either, amongst other things. Sterling, who recently turned 80, is a stark dichotomy of sorts, making a lot of stupid comments such as these for many years while being a longtime donor to causes benefiting black Americans. One obviously doesn’t excuse the other, though. The generational thing doesn’t serve as an excuse either.
I know folks from Sterling’s generation talked like this frequently even if they didn’t mean harm or realize the gravity of their speech. I have had some in my own family, even though my parents taught tolerance and acceptance, even though my brother and I were raised to be color blind. Apparently Sterling has been abusive to a lot of Clippers employees over the years, and it wouldn’t be hard for me to develop a profile of a person with a lot of money who by and large has a dim view of all who are from a lower economic stratosphere then he hails from, no matter what color they are. Still, the comments with the word “black” thrown in are cutting. They can’t be construed as anything other than hurtful.
In the maelstrom that followed, Sterling was suspended from the NBA and fined, and has been informed that the league will seek to force him to sell the team. This has been announced by new NBA commissioner Adam Silver. From my viewpoint, it will be interesting to see if the forced sale of the club goes through and if Sterling will challenge it in a court of law. There could be any number of legal angles brought into play here if he does…
MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE NHL team is the Montreal Canadiens. I saw them on a Sunday afternoon televised game in 1960 against the Chicago Blackhawks and was mesmerized by them and their style of play. Pretty much everything about the team had my rapt attention. They have a young black Canadian kid on the team, PK Subban, who is one of the best defensemen and players in the entire league. He is a good kid, hails from Toronto, is well spoken, and since his retired school principal father’s favorite team is also Les Habitants, he is quite passionate about being a member of the Habs. Probably the biggest rival of all time for the Habs is the Boston Bruins. They have fought tooth and nail in the regular season and in the playoffs for 90 years, with the Habs having a decided advantage in the post-season. They are locked in a divisional playoff final right now, tied at a game apiece.
In Game One, Subban had the first goal for the Habs and the OT game winner. This spurred some 17,000 racist entries on various social media against him. He gets booed on a regular basis when the team plays there—like every time he touches the puck. That he is a superb player as well is surely grating for the Beantown fans. But 17k unkind entries because a player is black, and he just helped beat your team? It is sad and pathetic to see this. It’s just a game. It is reported that a great deal of the posts used the ‘N’ word within them, and that the bulk of them originated from the greater Boston area.
The next day, a common refrain was that these people weren’t “real” Bruins fans. Well, sorry, but given the history of racial hatred in Boston, I’m guessing a lot of them ARE Bruins fans. No matter that the B’s have a black player of their own on the roster. This only serves as verification for me that the bulk of racist people are quite lacking in intelligence, maturity, and sophistication. Sadly, a great many of them were taught to hate, since hate is learned, not genetic. You could argue that it may be hereditary, though, because a lot of it seems to be passed on from one generation to another within a familial structure.
At the end of the day, people like Sterling or the Bruin fans probably aren’t racists of the nature or mentality of white supremcist groups who hate people of color and plan and carry out violence and harm against them. They are somewhere lower on that scale, but abhorrent all the same. They might not even be aware that their behavior is considered passé by most on today’s ever-shrinking planet. I thought that as the world became more global, this would fade and go away. But elect a black person president and watch some elements of our society, encouraged by one of our own political parties, revert to behavior from 50 to 60 years ago or more.
I was born in a race-divided town. By the time I was one, we moved “up north” to a place with bigger hearts and kinder faces. But going back home as a teen, I still saw blacks eating their lunch on the sidewalk in front of restaurants, uncomfortable to eat inside and unwelcome anyway. It brought sadness to me to see that. So did we learn anything in these past few days? Yes. We learned that some of us haven’t learned a damn thing… PEACE    
MFAN EXTRA: The best article I have read this past week is this: “Racism is real, but the outrage over Sterling is fake.” Google it up—it’s quite interesting…. OVER & OUT!

Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.