Who Makes The Game? For Too Many Of Us, They Do

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been hammered by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and will soon be tossed out of the NBA’s mostly white ownership club for his racially-charged remarks to his girlfriend. That’s all good for the NBA and all good for society (and good for Donald Sterling, since he will get hundreds of millions of dollars when he is forced to sell his team, a team he paid about a buck and some change for in 1981.)

I was amazed at the swift action taken against him and the almost universal repulsion against his comments, which were widely reported as unforgivably racist. It’s says a lot for American society that we have come to the point where such remarks have no place in a polite, if still majority white, society.

But read again the following excerpt from the audio recordings that were made:

GIRLFRIEND: I don’t understand, I don’t see your views. I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.

STERLING: Well then, if you don’t feel — don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.

GIRLFRIEND:  Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?

STERLING:  You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners that created the league?

Let’s move away from the “Don’t bring black people” remarks that have rightly outraged everyone and focus on something else: the utter arrogance of a man in business who thinks he is the center of the moral and economic universe.

Lots of people have interpreted Sterling’s remarks in the context of an old plantation owner in the South who thinks he is doing his slaves a favor by feeding and clothing them and providing them with other necessities. I get that. It sure looks like that is his attitude. But let’s go a little further and remove his words from the racial context and just look at what his comments mean as applied to all workers in the workplace (Sterling did, after all, have two white players). He asked,

Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners that created the league?

The answer clearly, in his mind at least, is, “I make the game” and “The owners make the game.” And because the owners make the game, because they created the league, they therefore “give” the players—the workers—food, clothes, cars, and houses. In other words, if it weren’t for the owners—the moneyed elite—no one would have a damn thing. It’s all dependent on them. The workers are just lucky that the owners provide for them. As the 2012 Republican convention theme put it,“We Built It,” in opposition to President Obama saying, “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.”

income inequality: raise the minimum wageAs I said, Donald Sterling’s comments about race rightly generated a lot of outrage. And wouldn’t it be nice if there were also a lot of outrage generated in response to his self-righteous stance as a business owner? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get to the point in this country where all workers were so highly valued that no “owner” dare talk down to them no matter their occupation or the color of their skin? That no businessman dare put himself above the workers that actually keep him in business?

Alas, that’s a long way off, as one recent commenter on this blog, Herb Van Fleet, pointed out. American business interests not only believe they are the center of the moral and economic universe, they also control our politics. Herb (as part of an upcoming column in the local paper) quoted from a new joint university study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page:

Gilens and Page comment that, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

In other words, it’s tyranny by the minority.

If you think Herb is exaggerating with that “tyranny by the minority” comment, consider the following from the authors of the study:

Our findings indicate, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

Tyranny by the minority, indeed.

The recent takedown of Donald Sterling by the NBA commissioner, and the upcoming vote by league ownership to force him to sell his team, was brought about by two things that give us some tiny twinkle of hope for wrestling control of our society from the economic elites, many of whom believe they not only own their businesses, but own our democracy and, ultimately, own us. Those two things were the unified stance the NBA players took against Sterling—they were prepared to boycott playoff games—and the widespread public reaction, including advertisers, against his expressed racism.

Now, if only we could generate such a unified workplace stance and such widespread public reaction against the economic elitism Sterling represents, maybe we could make more of those “I make the game” bastards squirm.



  1. Too bad Abraham Maslow isn’t around now. If he were, I think he would be motivated by the likes of Donald Sterling and Mitt Romney, he of the notorious 47% speech, to modify his hierarchy of needs. At the tip of Maslow’s pyramid, as published back in 1947, was this culmination as applied to people in general:

    morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts

    That is what Maslow perceived as the natural culmination of human motivation becomes when the lower needs such as food, clothing, shelter and cells phones were satisfied. Obviously, for some people at least, the path upward diverges from the norm at some point and the need becomes megalomania. The question then is whether this is a form of mental illness or a natural progression, but whichever, it is all too real and has real staying power. The same thing surfaced in the Gilded Age, but it has been there all the time.

    megalomania |ˌmegəlōˈmānēə|
    obsession with the exercise of power, esp. in the domination of others.


    • I suppose there is room enough in “self-actualization” for megalomania, especially if it turns out that a combination of fate and effort puts millions or billions of bucks in your pocket (or in the Cayman Islands).  I’d like to say that if I were in the Romney-Sterling position that megalomania would provide no temptation. Just like I’d like to say if I were in a roomful of women who looked like Grace Kelly, and who desired me beyond all others, that I would self-actualize in a more wife-friendly manner. In both cases, I shall never know.


  2. Duane,

    First, I think Sterling is an a-hole. But there are a lot of rich a-holes – Sheldon Adelson comes to mind. But, it’s not a crime to be an a-hole. If it were, we’d have to build a lot more prisons.

    No, what got Sterling in trouble was his disparaging remarks about African-Americans, which make up 80% or more of the NBA. Now, being a white guy myself , I can’t imagine having to live with the constant racism that goes with being black, whether it’s driving by a cop, or shopping, or going the school, or just walking down the street. This, it seems to me, is a case where paranoia is justified. No other ethnic group — Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, Muslim-Americans — gets hassled more than blacks. On the other hand, it’s the blacks more than any other group (tribe?) who scream the loudest when they hear offensive speech aimed at them. They play the victim card, mostly implicit, but still perceptible.

    And therein, for me anyway, lies the problem. It seems that speech from someone in the public eye, even when secretly recorded, must at all times be politically correct. Those whites who have a racial bias toward African-Americans must walk on eggshells; they must understand that there may be consequences to what they say. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s just not the reality today.

    Having said all that, I can hardly blame the blacks for calling out Sterling for his comments, especially considering his position as an NBA team owner. But the pilling-on by the entire black community, not to mention the press, is, to me, a bit much. Yes, what he said was offensive, but was it so offensive that he should be kicked out of the NBA? That “punishment” seems grossly disproportionate to the “crime.” A heartfelt apology, if Sterling has a heart, should be sufficient. And the black community should accept it and move on to more important things.

    As to the $2.5 million fine, well that is an insult to the first amendment right of free speech. No money should ever be assessed for anyone’s opinion, or for hurting anyone’s feelings. And that applies regardless of the speaker’s wealth. If we get to that point in this country, then we’d have change our name to the “United States of Orwell.” Free speech should be just that — free!



    • ‘scuse me for buttin’ in, Herb, but it’s only my 2 cents worth on your comment.

      I agree with your comment, but hasten to add something that I haven’t heard the press mention during the Stirling affair. The fine and the banishment have nothing to do with the government. I suppose financial laws apply to the sale of the team, however.

      The NBA commissioner is elected by the owners of the pro-team owners and he acts on their collective behalf according to their own rules, rules which were structured, apparently, with awareness of the sport’s public image in American culture. Similar to the Masters Golf Tournament, I suppose. I’d call it simply a good ole boys’ club, but then there was Marge Shott.

      Maybe there’s nobody else in the country who doesn’t understand this, but I thought it worth a mention. I’m waiting for Ted Cruz to blame it on Obama somehow.


    • King Beauregard

       /  May 1, 2014

      “It seems that speech from someone in the public eye, even when secretly recorded, must at all times be politically correct. Those whites who have a racial bias toward African-Americans must walk on eggshells; they must understand that there may be consequences to what they say. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s just not the reality today.”

      Oh the poor white man who stands revealed as a shitheel! How he SUFFERS! What really matters is that he mostly disguised his racism, and oh what an unjust world we live in that, when his disguise slips, we call him on it. It’s Political Correctness gone mad!

      But you know, I seem to recall someone or other saying that blacks need to police their own ranks, which implies that we white folks need to police our own. That’s how I’m going to interpret this, white folks policing white folks, just as it should be.


    • This isn’t a free speech issue at all, Herb. The government isn’t involved in fining the guy or shutting him up. His own peer group is doing that. It’s mostly about business. And bigotry, outside the conservative media complex, is increasingly becoming unprofitable.

      Some political correctness is just common decency. It is now, thankfully, common decency to not denigrate an entire race of people in the way Sterling did and there is, and should be, a social price to pay for such nonsense.

      You wrote:

      And therein, for me anyway, lies the problem. It seems that speech from someone in the public eye, even when secretly recorded, must at all times be politically correct. Those whites who have a racial bias toward African-Americans must walk on eggshells; they must understand that there may be consequences to what they say. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s just not the reality today.

      Why shouldn’t it be that way? Why shouldn’t bigots have to walk on eggshells? If something is clearly wrong with what he expressed, as you indicate there is, shouldn’t our social mores and the sanctions that derive from them reinforce how wrong it is? If Sterling were not held accountable for such statements (and by “accountable” I mean by his private-sector fellows), then such statements and the attitude behind them would become (or remain) acceptable.

      I hope for the day when it will be necessary, say, for people who deny global warming to have to walk on egg shells and understand that there will be consequences (again: private sector consequences) attached to what they say. The same for people who deny the obvious age of the earth or insist that Adam and Eve were real people who lived less than ten thousand years ago. Don’t you?



      • Duane,

        Well, again, I think we’re on different pages here. I see free speech as a fundamental right. That is doubly true when speech is made with the expectation of privacy. And speech which is “politically correct” and/or complies with accepted mores or social norms is, by definition, not free. As Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, put it, “We live in a world in which people are censured, demoted, imprisoned, beheaded, simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Hateful, blasphemous, prejudiced, vulgar, rude, or ignorant remarks are the music of a free society, and the relentless patter of idiots is how we know we’re in one.” Remember Voltaire?

        Now as to Donald Sterling and his punishment for blaspheming the black community, specifically those in the NBA, his bigotry has been known for years. He has paid off the NAACP to keep them at bay for example. So, Sterling’s comments are no surprise here. The surprise is the NBA commissioner Alan Silver’s actions to impose the most extreme punishment allowed under the NBA’s “Constitution.” Sterling is “banned” for life from any NBA games. There’s another fundamental right down the drain — the right to move about freely and to have unfettered access to “public accommodation” — something the African-Americans found so hard for, especially over the last 60 years. And the fine, as I said above, is ludicrous on it’s face.

        I would advise Sterling to sue the NBA on the simple claim that the U.S. Constitution trumps the NBA’s. And I’ve heard he may do just that.

        No, what should happen here that, if the players and fans and sponsors are that upset, then they should abandon the Clippers and let it tank of it’s own accord. This is a commercial enterprise, not a nation that violates human rights. Let the Darwinian struggle for survival in the world of commerce play itself out.

        Also, as I said above, this incident is not about civil rights, it is about racial bigotry aimed at one specific racial group. On that point, it’s interesting that the outrage by the Native Americans over the name of the Washington Redskins has not provoked a punishment of its owner Daniel Snyder by the NFL. Why do you suppose that is?

        In any case, I have to agree, and I hope you will too, with an article in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-meyers/donald-sterling-free-speech-privacy_b_5249735.html, the last paragraph of which reads:

        “Commissioner Silver has opened the door to a slippery slope; the next team owner or player may be singled out and sanctioned for homophobic views expressed in the privacy of their homes or for sexist and maybe anti-Semitic speech. This is what Commissioner Silver has wrought. Racist and other offensive words and ideas cannot be banned — but they can and should be disputed and repudiated by people of good will. But those people of good will must also speak up for the principles and protections accorded free expression and privacy interests which are fundamental to the preservation of a free society and our democracy.”



        • King Beauregard

           /  May 8, 2014

          “And speech which is “politically correct” and/or complies with accepted mores or social norms is, by definition, not free.”

          “Free” does not mean “free from consequences”. It never has.

          But I get it: there was a time when a person could be openly racist and experience very little blowback, and now it’s harder and harder to be racist without it rebounding painfully. It must be SOCIETY that has gone mad, because God knows racists couldn’t be the problem.


        • Herb,

          I’m afraid I will never see things like the Sterling affair as “free speech” issues. First, the government wasn’t involved in depriving him of the right to say whatever he wanted. Second, if he is forced to sell his team, it will be because his business partners are cutting their losses. They stand to lose a lot if he remains in the business, in their business.

          Let’s say he was an executive at McDonalds and was secretly recorded saying, “Those Big Macs are not made with real meat and they will kill you if you eat them.” Do you think the corporation has no right to fire him because he has the freedom of speech?



  3. ansonburlingame

     /  May 1, 2014

    It took me a while to gather my thoughts about Sterling but I just posted a blog on that matter today, Thursday. No doubt his comment was offensive and should not have been made. But as well, consider the source if you will, a fat, old, white man arguing with a girlfriend. He was trying to “protect his turf” it seems to me, his sexual turf and did not want her around black men, Magic Johnson in particular it seems.

    I seriously doubt that if she was “seeing” a Chinese man the outrage now seen over Sterlings reaction would not have happened. Quit dating Chinese men and don’t bring them to the games. Hmmm?

    My blog takes a different tack from Duane’s but no way do I defend Steriling, feel sorry for him, think he is being picked on, etc. But I also agree with Herb that the picking has gone overboard, primarily by blacks defending their own turf.

    Now for a comment on Duane’s view about whose game it really is, Sterlings, the players, other owners, the league and its staff, etc. Duane left out the sole reason for everyone (almost) associated with the NBA being millionaries, some multi, multi-millionaries. Just add up player salaries and owner’s income based on just ownership of one “club” and see which number is bigger. But back to the point.

    The game exists because many Americans love to see and watch on TV professional basketball. No public interest in that game and no game, at least as we know it today. Sterling no more “owns or makes the game” than do TV stations that broadcast them and pay unbelievable sums to do so. Where does all the money come from to pay unbelievable salaries to men to play 80 games a year? It comes from advertisers and people that pay a lot for a seat at the games, period. No fans, no game, no NBA league, no owners, no players making huge money, etc., etc.

    I have no idea the amount of money spent by “businesses” to advertise products for NBA games shown on TV, or the right to put the name of their company on the facilities in which the games are played, or the money received by owners from ticket sales, vending operations, etc. But if you add it all up, I comes to an amount that actually pays all those people a lot of money to simply play a damned game.

    Could all that money be better spent on “something else”?

    Duane in his usual zeal once again challenges anyone that might pay less than he thinks is deserved to “workers”. He has tried to turn a racial argument into a “workers of the world unite” again, argument or so it seems to me. Well there may well be some mistreated workers in America but I will be damned if you will convince me that professional basketball players are being mistreated, by anyone, except themselves from time to time when they tee off against each other on the court of “play”.

    I wonder just how much money Payton Manning makes to throw one pass, or Lebron to shoot one shot, etc. And we the people pay them to do so, do we not?



    • I was merely characterizing the attitude of those “job creators” the right loves to admire, those who think they are actually creating the jobs and the workers owe them all the praise. As you point out, it is the consumers who actually create the jobs.

      But I want to take issue with something else you wrote about “the picking has gone overboard primarily by blacks defending their own turf.” What? As a member of the conservative right in this country you are going to talk about black people going “overboard” on issues related to their well-being? While all around you there are white knuckleheads doing and saying crazy shit as they try to protect their own cultural turf? Geeze.


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  May 2, 2014

    The “King” slipped one in before I posted my own comments to this blog. Had I read it before commenting I would have added the following:

    “White people policing white people, just as it should be” leaving out the implication that for white people to police the comments at least of black people is out of bounds. OMG!!!”



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