Donald Sterling, in the last couple days, has commonly been compared to Marge Schott.
Schott owned the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1999. In that period, she repeatedly showed herself to be racist, anti-Semitic and just generally intolerant. Yet, baseball enabled her for a long time.
Basketball has enabled Donald Sterling for a long time, too. That might change tomorrow afternoon, but it won’t erase previous years as Sterling became the NBA’s longest-tenured owner.
Why did Sterling and Schott get so much leeway to behave badly?
Joe Posnanski wrote a strong column addressing that question and why times are changing. Posnanski:
Well, owners protected owners. It’s always been that way. They would have protected Marge Schott too, protected her to the very end, except she wouldn’t keep quiet. She just loved to talk to the press. People tried to protect her, but she could not help herself. Baseball didn’t suspend and eventually push out Marge Schott for how she ran her team or even for her views. They suspended and pushed her out because she would not shut up about Hitler and African Americans and it finally was too destructive to baseball to overlook.
Like with Marge Schott: The NBA knew what Donald Sterling was about. They knew. Over the last couple of days, you have no doubt seen the long litany of racism charges, sexual harassment charges and huge settlements floating in his wake. The league knew about Sterling. The players who cared to know, knew. Everybody who wanted to know, knew. He was just about the last guy you would want owning an NBA team.
But Sterling, like Schott, got into the club. And he did enough generous things to keep getting awards for his charitable work from groups like the NAACP (he was about to receive his second NAACP lifetime achievement award before the tapes came out). And the NBA was willing — no, more than willing, they were happy — to tolerate Sterling’s obvious history of narrow-mindedness and sleaziness so long as he didn’t embarrass the NBA in some deeper way.
I suggest reading Posnanski’s column in full. You’ll better understand the current situation if you do.