Post Donald Sterling? Address structural racism in sports

OK, so Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling is a racist. Because of that fact, Sterling was suspended for life from the NBA, and he might be forced to sell his team. Such an action by the NBA and, specifically, by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, was widely applauded. At 80 years old, Sterling appears to be a racist remnant from a by-gone era.

Denounce Sterling in the strongest language possible, and white folks can assure themselves that they are not racists. In other words, eliminate the racist, and you eliminate racism, so we can all go home and continue our lives.

However, African American columnists suggest there is something deeper. The NBA can congratulate itself all it wants on how diverse they’ve become in their ownership and with their players. However, diversity largely stops at the executive floor.

The NBA is 76 percent African American, yet only eight of its 30 coaches are black. The association has 30 owners; one is black.

New York Times columnist William Rhoden sees very little diversity when he steps into the upper floors of an NBA team’s office or into a press box at a NBA arena. Decision makers and opinion shapers in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL are mainly white men.

Sports is run by white supremacy culture, ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock writes.

Indeed, the sports community, like most communities, has gone from the elimination of overt racism to the persistence of a more covert racism. Sociologist Edwardo Bonilla-Silva believes the structure of racism today can be better recognized through what he calls, “racialized social systems.” He means that race is involved in what should be race-neutral institutions, like the NBA.

For example, lucrative, male team sports have segmented and hierarchical systems. Those who play the sport in the NBA, NFL and MLB, rarely matriculate to positions of power unless they happen to be white.

African Americans and other people of color are filtered out and separated, just like they are in the legal system or in public education.

African Americans are more likely to be convicted of, and serve longer sentences for, the same crimes as whites. In education, public schools serving black and brown populations get less funding, resources and teaching talent than those in schools serving white populations.

Donald Sterling’s racist wicked witch is dead, but his castle remains. The next question is, what can professional sports as an institution do about its racialized practices? That is the subject of our next blog.

Twitter: @klynch49

Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is in his 27th season covering the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers and Bay Area sports. He also is a guest radio host and pregame 49ers host on KNBR-AM San Francisco - the flagship station for the 49ers, San Francisco Giants, and Stanford football and basketball. Working mainly for sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle's web site, Lynch is expanding into sports' biggest questions and hottest debates such as - LBGTQ acceptance, athlete criminality, the ethics of performance-enhancing drugs, marijuana, locker room culture, sports and gender, sports and sex, sports and money, sports and race, sports and social change and many other issues. He has written editorials on LBGTQ resistance in sports for the Chronicle and has appeared on KQED radio, Comcast Sports Bay Area and ESPN's Outside the Lines to talk about a variety of sports topics. He completed a Master's in Sociology at San Jose State in 2015, which included a thesis on LBGtT Resistant Attitudes and Behaviors in Sports.


  1. I heard a suggestion on sports talk radio that Oprah should be allowed to buy the Clippers as everything she touches turns to gold; then let Magic be the front man. Also, as more Af-Americans and people of color (like Oscar De la Hoya) become billionaires, they will be clamoring to buy/run teams.

  2. Shortly after slavery was abolished in America, a law was passed that denied underage white women the right to marry without parental consent. And thus the marriage certificate was born. Reason? Because, newly freed black men could take white women as wives. And white men could not see handing their daughters over to men they had enslaved. At the heart of racism in America, is that rich and powerful white men have always feared, sexual competition from the men they literally “bred” to be physically superior. So, by collectively working together to put the “Genie” back in the bottle, they had to conspire institutionally (Jim Crow), to begin “castrating” their economic opportunities, which would deny them the ability to start and raise families, especially with their daughters.

  3. The problem of racism is both simple and complex. It is legitimately defined as offered by anyone who has a definition to offer.

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