Virtually everyone knows about the race controversy that will cost Donald Sterling the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team. It’s more than likely, however, that fewer people are aware of the relationship between Sterling and the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP.
Despite past legal action and accusations that called Sterling’s character into question, particularly regarding race, the local NAACP gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award in 2009 and planned to give him another similar high honor this coming May 15.
Sterling has been a major donor to liberal causes, including the NAACP. And, as California NAACP president Alice Huffman admitted to USA Today, big donors can get awards. Apparently, they can get such awards without much vetting of their past (or present).
This apparent pay-for-play behavior cost the NAACP’s LA chapter president, Leon Jenkins, his position in the group. Jenkins, a disbarred lawyer and disgraced former judge already raised eyebrows among his peers, but the Sterling controversy finally led to his exit. He apologized for “the negative exposure I have caused” the NAACP.
Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, notes that this toxic relationship between Sterling and the NAACP reveals the potential for terrible damage as it leads to the assumption that the once-unimpeachable civil rights lobby may now be available for purchase:
With the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP having given Donald Sterling a major lifetime humanitarian award in the past – and its willingness to do so again this month, until controversy overtook events after Sterling’s racial comments dominated the news – it proves to me what concerned blacks and others have largely held to themselves for a long time: the credibility of the NAACP could be for sale to the highest bidder.
When Sterling was last feted by the NAACP’s Los Angeles affiliate, he was in the midst of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice over accusations he discriminated against minorities in apartment rentals. This year, he was set to share the stage with the mayor of Los Angeles and Al Sharpton even though there was the factor of this settlement with the Justice Department and further accusations that his ownership style with the Clippers created a “plantation mentality.”
When the people demanded action in the wake of the comments Sterling made to his then-girlfriend becoming public knowledge, what the NAACP planned to do became very relevant because it appears to show that they were willing to look the other way for years as long as Sterling donated to progressive causes.
The outrage from the civil rights establishment to the Los Angeles NAACP and now-former chapter president Leon Jenkins could be seen as a calculated response to the exposure of the real and inappropriate connection between Donald Sterling and the political left.