(May 5, 2014 / JNS)
My husband isn’t a sports fan, so I was surprised when he started talking basketball.
He was the first person to tell me about Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and the nasty comments he made about black people.
“It gets worse,” my husband said.
“Sterling is Jewish,” he said. “This is bad. This is really bad.”
In my view, it was bad, but bad for Sterling, not for the entire Jewish people.
Like many Jews, my husband worries that what one Jew does wrong reflects poorly upon all Jews. Sadly, history backs him up on this. Too often people who wanted to hate Jews would point out the most flawed Jew they could find to bolster their anti-Semitism and attack all Jews.
But when Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy recently told The New York Times that African-Americans were better off as slaves, he didn’t cast a shadow on all ranchers or on all people who live in Nevada. He spoke only for himself when he said, “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton.”
Bundy was a blabbering bigot speaking only for himself.
And so was Sterling. He was speaking only for himself and only to his girlfriend, who recorded the conversation after Sterling grew angry that she posted a photo of herself with basketball great Magic Johnson on Instagram.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” Sterling said.
He went on to say that she could sleep with them, he just didn’t want her to bring them to his games. Ouch! He’s not only racist, he’s sexist. Here’s a guy who is 80, parading his young mistress in front of his wife. He’s worried his girlfriend will find young black men more attractive than him and doesn’t want the world to know.
Sterling, whose birth name was Tokowitz, happens to be Jewish. Isn’t that a neutral fact? Like having blue eyes, brown hair or skinny legs?
But as my husband knows too well, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” History proves too well people were out to get the Jews in country after country, century after century. When can you stop being worried? When does any one Jew represent every Jew?
It’s tricky. When that Jew is generous, you want to claim him or her as a mensch. When that Jew is a racist, you want to disown him or her. Can you have it both ways?
We Catholics are different. I’ve never heard a fellow Catholic lament over another Catholic’s foibles, “Oh, no, and he’s Catholic, too.” Maybe we’ve lowered our bar. Heaven knows too many priests and bishops did that for us with the pedophile priest scandal. My church recently declared a pope to be a saint who allowed the abuse of children to thrive under the veil of secrecy he did little to lift.
The truth is, there is a saint and there is a sinner in all of us. None of us has a sterling reputation. We all have the potential for light and darkness inside us. What speaks loudest about us is what we do when we are confronted by the darkness. How many people allowed Sterling—and allow people like him—to thrive in spite of their racism because they have so much money?
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported that the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave money to various Jewish groups, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles, and the Museum of Tolerance.
Am I the only one who laughed at that last donation?
Should a Jewish group take money from a known racist? Once you know the donor is racist, do you give back the money? Or do you shoot for the middle: Keep the money and decline future donations?
Everything unraveled fast for Sterling when the money fled. Advertisers quickly bailed on the Clippers, fans were in an uproar and players talked of a boycott. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and handed him a lifetime ban, barring Sterling from attending any NBA games, including those of his own team.
Adam Silver? He’s Jewish.
During a press conference, “Jewish Sports on Earth” journalist Howard Megdal asked Silver, “In terms of Donald Sterling self-identifying as Jewish and you doing the same, as well, I’m wondering whether there was a specific kind of pain associated with that for you and if you felt a certain responsibility within the Jewish community to be responding to this in this way?”
Silver replied, “I think my response was as a human being.”
In that moment, Silver shone.
Not just for every Jew, but for every gentile.
Regina Brett, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author, is a columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, where this column originally appeared. She is the first-place winner of the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary for newspapers with a circulation of 14,999 and under in the 2014 Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans and on Twitter @ReginaBrett.