Donald Sterling (cont.)

If the Donald Sterling saga continues — as I’m sure it will for some time — I am hoping it can veer toward the whole issue of race in America and the conduct not only of celebrities, but of all of us.

The National Basketball Association has banned the Los Angeles Clippers owner for life because of his hideous racist rant overheard in a phone conversation with his much younger girlfriend. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took the bold step today and also fined Sterling $2.5 million. The owner will face immense pressure from other team owners to sell his team, presumably to someone outside his family.

That’s a good first step.

But then I heard a New York Times sports columnist, William Rhoden, take the discussion a bit farther as it relates to African-American athletes..

Rhoden, who also is African-American, called on highly paid professional athletes to begin honoring themselves by stop using the “n-word” in locker rooms. He said it’s common for these athletes to use that despicable word to each other.

Given that I am not black, I suppose I cannot quite understand why intelligent human beings would use such language … even as some kind of inside joke.

Of the many African-American friends I’ve had over many years of living, I’ve never heard any of them refer to each other with that highly pejorative term. Even in the Army back in the late 1960s, when I was bunking with black soldiers, I cannot recall a single time hearing it.

I’ll take Rhoden at his word — as well as others who’ve reported it over a great length of time — that the word can be heard in locker rooms.

Professional athletes of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have been rightly offended by what has transpired in recent days regarding the hateful speech spewed forth from this particular team owner. They’ve protested by tossing warm-up jerseys on the floor, worn black socks while competing, made statements condemning the words that came from Sterling’s mouth and called for a national discussion about race relations.

One prominent black journalist, though, made a brief point in a TV interview today that deserves to be heard over and over.

It is for African-American athletes — the targets of one team owner’s reprehensible tirade — to start speaking with respect to each other. The “n-word” must be silenced.

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