How racism remains to be prevalent in sports

The NBA and the NHL have been trending news lately, but not for the reasons either league would like. After racist comments made by Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, went viral, the NBA fined him and banned him from games for life.

Fans at Oracle Arena protest Clippers owner Sterling's remarks on racism. (Credit: Reddit)

Fans at Oracle Arena protest Clippers owner Sterling’s remarks on racism. (Credit: Reddit)

Within weeks of that decision, Boston Bruins fans took to Twitter to level racial slurs at Montreal Canadiens defenseman P. K. Subban, a black player, after his game-winning double overtime goal. The Bruins were quick to cry foul at the behavior of the Twitter users.

Both of these events have continued to bring attention to the ongoing problems of racism in sports, and media commentators and comedians alike have noted that, while the NBA was quick to respond to a racist team owner, the NFL and MLB have remained silent about the issues of racism against Native Americans. When you’re chatting in the dining hall or between classes about these latest events, here’s what you need to know.

Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers

Sterling was recorded telling his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not to bring black people to Clippers games. The recording was released on Deadspin and TMZ, and reaction from players and fans alike was instant: fans took to the Internet and to the stands to show their solidarity with black players and fans, and the Clippers players, in protest, warmed up for their next game with their shirts inside-out, hiding the Clippers logo.

President Barack Obama even weighed in when asked about the issue at a press conference, saying “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here,” according to Ralph Ellis and Steve Almasy in the April 28, 2014, article for, “NBA players protest racist talk attributed to L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.”

After a quick investigation, hastened by threats of players in revolt, advertisers leaving, and fans in outrage, NBA commissioner Adam Silver leveled a $2.5 million fine on Sterling and banned him from the game for life. If that is not enough to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, it is likely that the league will force him to sell; Silver needs 24 of the 29 other NBA owners to vote Sterling out of the league.

But while Sterling is getting the boot from the NBA, his other racist behavior remains unmitigated. Billionaire Sterling has settled two lawsuits against housing discrimination, cases which accused Sterling of discriminating against African-American and Hispanic residents. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star wrote in “NBA: Now that the racist is gone, it’s time to tackle racism,” on April 29, 2014, “The NBA always let Sterling skate despite those repugnant sworn depositions, despite far worse things, because sports is half lawyers, or more. This really was like nailing Al Capone on tax evasion.”

P. K. Subban vs. Boston Bruins Twitter fans

While Bruins president Cam Neely released a statement calling out the racist and classless tweets that attacked P. K. Subban after his game-winning goal in Game 1 of the NHL playoff series, and Bruins fans took to the Internet to criticize their fellow social-media users for their racism epithets, a Montreal media monitoring and analysis company showed that the N-word and Subban’s name were used, together, in more than 17,000 tweets.

Though some of the tweets included in that number may have been calling out the original users for their poor behavior, the sheer quantity shows a disturbing trend of racism among Bruins fans, as well as across the NHL.

Mike Majeski of Too Many Men on the Site wrote in his May 2, 2014, article “Racism and the National Hockey League: What Can We Do?” that a writer for the LA Times had suggested Sterling buy an NHL team, criticizing the NHL as a “safe haven for racists.”

Immediately, some NHL fans responded to her article—with racist and sexist slurs in their messages. Majeski decried the behavior and encouraged fans, “In the games ahead, do not quote or retweet racist remarks… Instead of engaging and giving them attention, use the report function on Twitter.”

Racism presence of Native Americans

So what about the MLB and the NFL, who have been criticized for years, without any change, for names like the Washington Redskins (a controversy covered at iCitations) and mascots like Chief Wahoo? While there has been growing pushback, as yet, the bottom line for those leagues hasn’t been threatened.

So some fans are targeting distributors of sports merchandise, like Nike, for protests against what they deem to be offensive mascots. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the example made of Sterling as an opportunity to criticize the NFL for its silence on the issue of the Washington Redskins’ name.

But until racism in sports is eliminated, comedy groups like All Def Digital provide a little levity on such a heavy topic:

Have you encountered racism in sports? Tell us in the comments.

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