Tag Archives: racism

A Tale of Two Videos: Tony Stewart & Ray Rice

Tony Stewart will not face charges on the murder, the vehicular homicide or the accidental death of Kevin Ward, Jr.

I’ve lost all hope in humanity.

The American justice system has failed yet again. I can only surmise Eric Holder’s recently announced resignation comes as a result of the inaction by officials to hold yet another a popular white “athlete” accountable for his crimes (see: Duke Lacrosse team, Oscar Pistorius, baseball players).

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Two weeks ago, the last apparent last bastion of the fourth estate TMZ released a video of Ray Rice shamelessly knocking out his then-fiancé Janay Palmer.

Once revered as maybe the top running back in the world, Rice’s career as it stands appears unredeemable. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL Players Association has since appealed on his behalf, sighting tired (but unfortunately, most likely true) slippery slope, two punishments for one crime arguments.

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On August 9th in upstate New York a 43-year old man driving a 1400 pound vehicle at a speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour hit a 20-year man—a boy really. The young man with a long, bright future ahead of him died, almost immediately. It was caught on tape.

One would hope—given the above circumstances—that the full weight of the law and public reaction would fall on the culprit. One would imagine that said culprit would be collapse under the pressure, a charged and convicted criminal as the world celebrates the triumph of justice.

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So here we are. The NFL is the midst of a once-in-a-generation scandal. Employees are answering to the former Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (the goddamn Director of the F-B-goddamn-I!), turning over communications, cataloging steps taken and not taken in an investigation completed or not completed. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell—the shoot-first sheriff, self-proclaimed judge and jury of the NFL when he ascended to power—finds himself in the unusual position of target practice.

Rice is at fault, and the NFL and Goodell screwed everything to hell.

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There is a video that shows Ward’s murder. It wasn’t shown on ESPN or your local news, because it’s a video of someone dying (as if all that war footage of rockets firing and landing on nightly network news weren’t). Watch it here—if you can bear it.

The 43-year old man—Stewart, let’s be painfully clear—is free. He woke up this morning to a loving family, doting fans, a dedicated racing team and a job that he loves.

Ward will never get a chance to realize the NASCAR dreams Stewart shamelessly tried preserved in his all-too-early return to the track.

But more than that, Ward will never get to find and marry the love of his life, to swell with pride as he watches his children stumble and get back up, to grow old and see the world change. Ward will never get to turn the ignition or choke the throttle of his beat up no. 13, joke around with his team or get angry at his opponents, relish in victory or rise again from a loss.

Ward graduated from high school two years ago. Two years ago. And will remain fixed in his family’s memory an eternal 20-year old.

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The institution of the NFL has been turned inside out—and rightfully so—for countless reasons. Among these include: the culture of violence that has been absorbed by the players’ family members for years, the countless players facing even more countless charges of violent crimes and the apparent cover-up (or shameful ineptitude, if you’re an optimist) of the Rice incident—only the most recent indication of the NFL’s unspoken mandate to “protect the shield.”

Despite all this, last Sunday came and went. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the country flocked to their football meccas and millions tuned in at home. Billions of dollars were made in salary and advertising revenue. The testament of sport.

It would be pretentious, and in many ways wrong, to call for a boycott of the NFL—and not just because it would never happen. After all, most football players are by-and-large good people (I think) who understand that they’re not actually allowed to pulverize other people off the field.

I would hope that recent events have disrupted fandom—at least for a blip—causing unease and skepticism. There has been some reporting on this, but not nearly enough.

Football is good. Ray Rice is bad. And the NFL fucked up.

End scene.

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Ray Rice knocked someone unconscious—his partner nonetheless. He may never face judge or a jury, but he is being punished—by the league he belonged to, the team he was a part of and the American public at large.

Tony Stewart Killed a person. Where’s the indignation? Why hasn’t ESPN rushed to Ward’s aide with hours of outraged Olbermanns and Wilbons?

When we were talking about Ward’s death—for that brief two week period that quickly was swept under the rug the moment Stewart gloriously returned to the race track to bravely not lose his position in the Sprint cup race—we seemed to shy away from what actually happened. Our headlines never used the words like “killed” or “fatally struck.” Instead it was an unfortunate accident that happened to an unfortunately young person.

“…an on-track accident that left 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. dead.”

“…he was involved in an incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.”

“Kevin Ward Jr.’s death…”

“A sprint car racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart left another driver with fatal injuries…”

It’s no wonder that Stewart got away with murder. Our verbs hid him from the truth of it. I don’t know yet if that was for his sake or ours. Both are infuriating reasons.

Accidents and death are part of the machismo of racing. I get it. But Ward didn’t die in an accident. He died after an accident—when Stewart’s right front tire clipped Ward, throwing him in the air like a rag doll. As for machismo, the NFL certainly doesn’t lack in it, and they’ve still managed to hold individuals to a modicum of accountability—no matter how disjointed and backwards-ass the path is to get there.

Stewart Killed a person. It’s on tape. I’m still waiting for the Fury of God’s Own Thunder.

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

#Breaking: Ferguson Police Officer Forcibly Engages Fellow-Racist Taylor Swift in Ice Bucket Challenge

A soon-to-be-less-anonymous Ferguson, Missouri visitor reportedly was accosted by a member of the Ferguson police department who dumped not 1, not 2, not 3, but 6 buckets of ice water on the victim’s head as part of the recent ALS ice bucket challenge.

The campaign has picked up a lot of steam (the cold kind of steam that isn’t really steam at all but rather the crystallization of water having left a person’s breath to arrive upon sub-32 degree Fahrenheit air) recently, on the backs and heads of numerous participants who have advocated for the cause by choosing to dump a bucket of ice water on their own heads rather than donate money to people suffering from an incurable, debilitating illness.

In fairness – many of the more notable participants have stated explicitly in their videos that they have both donated to the foundation AND chosen to shrink their dicks publically. These participants include Miley Cyrus, Earl Grey and Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Public Security, General Tran Viet Tan. However, these people were also fully aware of the unwritten law they were breaking and did so of their own volition.

While the purpose of the viral campaign’s alternative to donation (read: ice and buckets) is presumably to act as a deterrent to those disinclined to donate, it simultaneously serves as a pay-it-forward, explicit call-out that doubles as a social media marketing stunt. If celebrities like the highly-regarded General Tan want to donate to a good cause and intimidate other people into doing the same that is their right as Americans.

Enter Turd Ferguson, Missouri. The Police Department of Ferguson has recently come under a lot of fire (and ice!) for being a bunch of terrible, murderous pricks. This is a group of people who have allowed the same hush-hush, bros-before-hos, “deny-til-you-die” mentality typically reserved for shielding friends from actions such as smoking weed in the TV room of a fraternity house to extend to lying about murder. Protests have continued and Ferguson has responded by more-or-less militarizing their police force and turning the small community into a police-state.

But now they just went too far.

A sort of anonymous member of the community, having been semi-not-confirmed to be former pop-sensation-turned-racist Taylor Swift, is reported as having had 6 buckets of ice water dumped unceremoniously on her pretty white head by an undisclosed member of the Ferguson Police Department Tuesday morning.

This, as an isolated incident, is not a story. Taylor Swift—having already paraded swastikas directly into our children’s souls via her recent single “Shake it Off”—has recently proven that her adorable genes lack any human capacity for sympathy. It therefore logically follows that she would not be moved to donate money towards ALS, opting instead to be bathed in the frigid waters of her own fame-grabbing sociopathic pathology rendered literal.

But the nightmarish implications of the incident are only revealed once one realizes the truly macabre context surrounding the incident itself.

Taylor Swift donated to ALS. She donated to ALS 6 times—once for each bucket of frigid water aimed for her now more rosily-described head.

Apparently the Ferguson police are not content to stop at murder, racism and institutionalized fear. They have begun campaigns to slander and manipulate the media towards their own inscrutable ends- in this case even targeting one of their own—proving racists to be the most faithless of companions.

If the Ferguson police have become aware of themselves as a media-object and are now battling to deflect the attentions of the media through targeted, slanderous acts of misdirection—how long until they assimilate the media itself? How much longer can we even trust the noble people calling them racists from their couches? What is their agenda? Who are we to trust?

I may be a member of the Ferguson police…right now.

 

#BREAKING: SHANE BATTIER CONFIRMS CHILD’S BELIEF THAT DAD DOESN’T KNOW HE IS RACIST

 

 

Following their defeat of the Pacers last Monday, ESPN got some time to interview Shane Battier on the team’s performance, their cohesion on and off the court, and their belief in themselves as they look for a 3rd consecutive national title.

But the real story was happening miles away.

In Yakima, Washington, 15 year old Washington native Tyler White was grappling with his own personal story.

“My dad couldn’t stop talking about how well-spoken Shane Battier was” White said, “He kept saying things like ‘why can’t they all talk like that?’”

“I know I am not supposed to say this,” White’s father chimed in, “but Battier is just so well-spoken. It isn’t like the rest of them, er, I mean NBA players, aren’t well-spoken but…uh…he just, you know, is better at it…you know, uh…speaking”

White’s father, Taylor White, went on to go back and forth over whether or not he was maybe racist but couldn’t seem to come to a conclusion.

He knew undeniably that he was right at least in terms of the surface-substance of his sentiment—Battier is an exceptionally well-spoken man—but he knew also that his even noticing it or thinking that this was something worth saying or commenting on likely spoke to a conditioned response rooted in a contrary expectation: that African Americans are NOT well-spoken.

He went on to assert internally that if he was thinking about it and conscious of the fact that he didn’t want the comment to come across as racist that he surely couldn’t be racist- given that he was mindful of the possibility and sought actively to avoid it.

He then internally countered with the argument that, well, even if you are aware of the expectation to which Battier’s speech runs counter and try to avoid bringing attention to it that doesn’t make that expectation any less your own. This implies that there is something built into you that is inherently racist even if you may not be willing to admit it in a public forum and tell me honestly if you saw a black guy knock on your door right now would you expect him to be selling magazines or looking for handouts or drugs and didn’t you just cross the street totally unnecessarily the other day just because that one big black guy was walking the opposite direction on the side of the street you were on and therefore gave you the slightly uncomfortable and totally inexplicable feeling of foreboding that you would soon be within shiv-range of a guy who (in all honesty) was probably just walking to the same McDonalds you were just leaving moments before?

White’s father concluded our interview by mentioning that he had at least 2 Jimmy Hendrix songs on his iPod and really wants to go on Shark Tank to plug his new invention: “The Mandingo.”

On Donald Sterling and the Ugliness of It All

In light of Donald Sterling’s stupidity. And extended stupidity. I’m struck by a profound sadness. A sadness for Deandre Jordan, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, and the rest of the Los Angeles  Clipper players who have to carry the burden of being that team. For Doc Rivers, placed, yet again, at the intersection of race and responsibility. A sadness for Elgin Baylor, who may finally see vindication. I even reserve a small sadness for Rochelle Sterling, who probably (hopefully) doesn’t share the same inclinations as her (estranged?) husband.

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In Bill Bradley’s seminal Life on the Run, he paints an intimate almost innocuous exchange with Hall of Fame teammate, former New York Knick great and current color commentator Walt Frazier about being black. In the South. In the 70s.

“…I still feel the tension of segregation.”

“How?”

“Just by walkin’ in the stores and how people wait on you; like here at the Marriot, the way the lady gives you change. They’re just little things I can relate to because I grew up in the South, and it reminds me of that again. The same thing in Phoenix; the other day I went into a store and four saleswomen just stood there looking at me asking each other, ‘Who’s going to wait on him?’ Anywhere in the South we go on Delta or Eastern Airlines, I can feel the tension between white and black, starting with the stewardesses; it’s different when we fly United or Northwest.”

“Will the South ever be different for you?”

“It will always be the same.”

“Why?”

“Because of the parents,” says Frazier. “Kids know no prejudice. They just go out and have a good time playing. Then the parents start saying black is wrong, don’t play with black kids, don’t be a nigger lover. So they change early in life and that’s the problem.”

There are so many intersections between Clyde’s experience and Sterling’s expectations, it’s shameful to imagine their remarks being separated by half a century.

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As this unfortunate drama plays out on every news outlet in America, it’s easy to forget or altogether ignore, the setting. This is, after all, one of the most riveting first rounds in NBA Playoff history.

And where the first round is usually reserved for the great talent disparities, cakewalks and tune-ups, this post season, more so than any other in recent memory, has three to five team—the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies (and to a far lesser extent, the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets)—aiming to upend that paradigm. With only half the series having played four games, the NBA is poised to break a ton of telling records.

With 16 road wins at a whopping .533 winning percentage, this year’s playoffs is outpacing the record 19 first-round road wins record set in 2005. No playoffs have ever seen more than 10 overtimes. Already, we’ve seen seven.

This is what basketball analysts should be talking about. This is every NBA fan’s dream.

But instead, this visage of vitriol…

…has been seared, at least temporarily, into America’s consciousness.

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Everyone has an opinion on what the NBA, the Clipper players and coaching staff should do—in protest and in sanctions. They need to do more, is a common thread. But when your employer has a pathological history of racism, there isn’t much you can do. This league has almost always been about black players making old rich white men richer, and there is very little in this moment that has the force to change that.

Calls have been made to exert the maximum penalty and strip Sterling of his ownership—which Commissioner Adam Silver probably could do and certainly has the public support to do. But doing so raises all sorts of slippery slope questions. If a billionaire owner has ties to a separatist group supplying arms to a militia committing humanitarian crimes in Eastern Ukraine, should they have a team? If another billionaire owner prone to enjoying copious amounts of cocaine, strippers and booze uses his venture capital firm to dismantle American manufacturing jobs, leaving thousands unemployed, crippling entire communities, do they deserve ownership of an NBA franchise?

In the morass of so much cynicism, scorn and condemnation, it’s difficult to discern the few voices that truly matter. And even then, it’s harder to find the more salient points, to balance the fair-minded with the emotional pull and still frame it in a larger historical context.

There are many questions here, with few and difficult answers.

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That a man of such vitriol exists and wields so much power in the universe of this game represented by the most diverse and progressive league American sports has to offer, is a testament to a forever unfinished work of social progress.

If there’s any benefit to all this stupidity, it is that this slumlord modicum of a man serves as a vanguard for every idiot who has ever claimed we’re somehow beyond racism, that we live in a post-racial society.

I love the game of basketball. By extension I love the NBA. It’s a beautiful game at its best when five players work in physical, mental and emotional harmony. That, in part, is what makes this episode harder to bear.

The Los Angeles Clippers (along with San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami) were among the four teams generally regarded as serious contenders. Superstars, a deep bench and a championship—they finally have it all this season. And if twenty years from now, the 2014 NBA Playoffs still exist in our consciousness as that one year that one racist owner said those racist things, God help us all.