I’ve always found the concept of owning a sports team unsettling. What exactly does one own in a team? When it comes to basketball, the fact that most team owners are wealthy white men who possess teams made up largely of strong black men doesn’t help the imagery either. It definitely doesn’t help when an influential NBA team owner gets caught making racist remarks on tape. The fact that Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, actually believes he owns his players makes matters just a little more uncomfortable.

As has been widely reported, Donald Sterling was caught expressing frustration with his lady friend and reprimanding her for associating with black men; including the likes of Majic Johnson (oh…the lady friend appears to be of African descent too). When she reminds him of the team of black men that play for him, he responds, “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? … Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”

For those that know Sterling, these execrable remarks should come as a no surprise. His plantation mentality has been well documented. In 2009, former Clippers manager Elgin Baylor reported that Sterling remarked , ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players’. In 2006, he was sued for housing discrimination when he refused to rent to blacks and Latinos. His reasons: “Because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. … And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day”. He’s been documented using the N-word repeatedly as well.

So, given that Sterling’s despicable views were well known, why is it only now that he’s fined and being forced to give up ownership of the team? What is the NBA punishing him for, being a racist or getting caught on a viral tape? The swift decision to penalize and ban him is laudable, but the moral high ground NBA claims is not one that is bona fide. Public outrage, loss of corporate sponsorships, brand damage and internal politics more aptly describe the leagues’ decisions. Being a member of one of the most exclusive and wealthiest clubs on the planet, Sterling no doubt has many enemies; this is their chance to take a shot at him.

As repulsive as Sterling’s comments are, one cannot overlook the ethical dilemma they’ve lead to. On one hand is the desire to hold accountable a powerful man for espousing abhorrent and intolerable views; on the other is the violation of his privacy and broadcasting of comments made in one’s personal space. After Snowden’s revelations on government spying, American’s have unequivocally deemed the private space as sacred and inviolable. So, it comes as a surprise that the same public would demand to penalize a man using evidence obtained surreptitiously through spying.

Sterling’s comments have sparked an inadvertent debate on race across America, and as it turns out, he’s not the only white man being tried in the court of public opinion. Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang made headlines last week after his essayon white privilege was re-published by Time magazine.

After being told repeatedly to ‘check his privilege’ on campus, Fortgang wrote the essay trying to dispel the notion that he was privileged. He attempts to do this by highlighting the struggles of his immigrant ancestors who escaped the horrors of the holocaust and started a new life the America. Since the publication he has received rather unwarranted attention; right wing groups giving him airtime to further their agenda, while left wingers lambasting him for defending racism.

I’ve never used the phrase and neither have been told to check my privilege; perhaps it’s because I am not white, or possibly because I went to school in Canada. Either way, I find it a rather harsh thing to say to anyone. Presumably it’s something you would say to shut someone out in an argument by telling them their opinions are invalid simply because of their skin colour; not to mention the emotional damage caused by accusing them of collective guilt. It’s the Ivy League equivalent of ‘your face is so [insert debate ending petty argument]’.

The frustration that might have caused Fortgang to pen that essay is understandable, he’s justified in doing that. While I am opposed to using that phrase, primarily because it’s rather petty, one can’t deny the legitimate privilege that accompany a particular race. In denying that privilege Fortgang displays his naïve outlook and a failure to comprehend racial realities that underpin our society.

‘Checking your privilege’ doesn’t mean to apologize for being white; it means to simply recognize that your race gives you an advantage in a multitude of arenas – think of it as a head start in a competition. Success ultimately rests on your abilities, but having the ‘right’ skin colour can make the road a little easier for you by eliminating prejudices that accompany the ‘wrong’ one.

Since we were speaking about basketball, (if you’re reading this Tal), let me illustrate the concept of how race can impact one’s success. Imagine you and I showed up at the tryouts for the basketball team at an inner city high school. You might be more qualified to make the team than me, but you can’t dispel the myth that ‘white men can’t jump’ (you should definitely check out that movie).

Being dark and tall will likely result in the coach and fellow players having greater faith in my abilities than you without too much effort; the struggles of my ancestors are irrelevant here. You, on the other hand, will have to go out of your way to prove yourself, your mistakes will be under greater scrutiny and your chances of ultimate success in the sport will be far lesser. I need to perform to ultimately make the team, but I won’t deny that darker skin does help a little in this case. I won’t apologize for it, but I recognize it and I don’t think it’s fair.

So Tal, how’s that for a personal Weltanschauung?

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