Tensions boiled over Monday as the NAACP rescinded plans to honor Clippers owner Donald Sterling with a lifetime achievement award and major companies pulled sponsorship deals for the Los Angeles basketball team following the release of audio recording of a racist rant by a man identified as Sterling.
“The revelation that Mr. Sterling may have made comments in a phone conversation that was reminiscent of the ugly time in American history that contained elements of segregation and racial discrimination demands that the Los Angeles NAACP’s intention to honor Mr. Sterling for a lifetime body of work must be withdrawn and the donation that he’s given to the Los Angeles NAACP will be returned,” Leon Jenkins, president of the groups’ L.A. chapter, said during a press conference Monday morning in Los Angeles.
While acknowledging the NAACP had yet to confirm the audio recording first published by TMZ Sports, Jenkins said the nature of the allegations required immediate action. Asked why the group had intended to honor Sterling originally, Jenkins noted the “body of work” Sterling and the Clippers have with community outreach and said the group did not intend to rescind a prior award it gave Sterling years ago.
The audio—released by TMZ Saturday of a phone call allegedly between Sterling and girlfriend V. Stiviano—revealed an argument over photos Stiviano posted on her Instagram of African-American athletes, including Magic Johnson.
“There is no negativity. I love everybody,” a man identified as Sterling said. “I’m just saying in your lousy f***** Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people… You can sleep with them. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want,” the man says in the recording. “The little I ask you is not to promote it on that, and not to bring them to my games.”
A handful of companies began to distance themselves from the Clippers over the controversy Monday, with State Farm, Virgin America, and Kia, among others weighing in on the matter.
“While we continue to support the fans and the players, Virgin America has made the decision to end its sponsorship of the L.A. Clippers,” Virgin America spokesman Jennifer Thomas said in a statement.
State Farm Insurance announced they would be “taking a pause” in their relationship with the Clippers organization in response to the controversy. “State Farm strongly supports and respects diversity and inclusion in its workforce and customers,” affairs director Phil Supple said in a statement. “The remarks attributed to the Clippers’ owner are offensive. While those involved sort out the facts, we will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization.”
Car company Kia announced its intentions to suspend “advertising and sponsorship activations with” the team, and describing the alleged comments as “offensive and reprehensible.”
Red Bull announced a similar suspension as the NBA investigates the matter.
The Clippers formally responded to news of the recording through president Andy Roeser, who said, “we do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape – who we believe released it to TMZ – is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’”
NBC has not verified the call, but Sterling has not denied it either. Through her lawyer, Stiviano, who according to the recording is half African-American, said the audio was authentic but noted that she had not released it to the media.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh touched on the matter on his radio show. “This guy is a big Democrat,” Limbaugh said of Sterling. “The only reason he’s in trouble right now is because he did not give enough money to Obama.”
While a handful of conservative media outlets have called Sterling a Democrat and pointed to a series of donations he made to Democratic candidates in the 1990s, according to the Los Angeles Times and Daily Beast, Sterling appears to be a registered Republican.
Sterling did not attend the team’s Sunday game, which saw the Golden State Warriors beat the Clippers 118-97, but both coaches agreed that the scandal around the owner had affected the teams.
“The basketball preparation is done for sure,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said in pregame remarks. “The mental preparation, on the other hand, I just honestly, I don’t know.”
Following the game, Warriors coach Mark Jackson acknowledged the distraction, but lauded his team for their win. “I think both teams were somewhat bothered by what has taken place the last 24 hours,” Jackson said. “But my guys just played with great energy, great effort.”President Barack Obama condemned Sterling’s remarks on Sunday from Malaysia, saying it was an example of how “the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation.”
“That’s still there, the vestiges of discrimination,” Obama said. “We’ve made enormous strides, but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often.”
Before rescinding its honor for Sterling, NAACP spoke out against his remarks on MSNBC on Sunday and Monday. Interim President Lorraine Miller said the group would be more careful in vetting the recipients of their lifetime achievement awards and would consider revoking his earlier award.
Sterling’s previous award “was an unfortunate decision and we’re coming out with new guidelines to assist our chapters in the vetting process,” Williams said on MSNBC on Monday.
“We have to call out racist people and their actions as we see them, we can’t allow them to go unnoticed or unaddressed,” Miller said Sunday.
The NBA has promised a swift and full investigation, as players and politicians have condemned Sterling in huge numbers. Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson both took to Twitter to respond; Johnson was one of the people pictured in Stiviano’s Instagram that Sterling objected to.
Michael Jordan, a fellow owner of the Clippers, released a statement condemning the remarks.
“As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views,” Jordan said. “As a former player, I’m completely outraged. There is no room in the NBA—or anywhere else—for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed.”
Two senators also spoke out against Sterling’s remarks on Sunday.
“It’s just outrageous in 2014 that comments like these are being made,” Sen. Bob Corker said on Face the Nation. “I thought the president’s response was appropriate, and I don’t know what else to add to it.”
“In our country, we have a First Amendment which allows ignorant racists to say whatever they want to say,” Sen. Claire McCaskill said on the same program. “However, I hope the NBA takes swift action against this man.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan also spoke out at an event announcing the rising graduation rates.
“If it’s true I don’t think he has a place or a role in the NBA,” Duncan said. “When something like this happens as folks know – this isn’t just like out of the blue, the more you read about this gentleman the more it seems this is who he is, he has had a persistent pattern of behavior and this is very much in-line and that got glazed over, and again sometimes people with money think they can make their own rules and he was able to do that for a while.”