Bad Behavior From A Sports Franchise Owner? That's Not New

Apr 30, 2014
Originally published on April 30, 2014 9:13 am

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA after he made racist comments.

Sports bans aren't new.

In 1990, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was banned from day-to-day management of the club by Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Steinbrenner was reinstated in 1993.

Sterling is 80. He comes from another time and is not only the senior NBA owner –– since 1981 –– but also, although probably this won't surprise you, historically the very worst owner in all of sport.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on the issue.

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And let's continue the conversation now with commentator Frank Deford, who joins us most Wednesdays. Hi, Frank.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: How are you, Steve?

INSKEEP: I'm doing OK. So we have Donald Sterling banned for life; and Adam Silver, the head of the NBA, is going to try to get him to be forced to sell his team. When you think of Silver's performance so far?

DEFORD: Well, I think Silver's performance has been superb. But of course, he's had everybody behind them. I think only Donald Trump is speaking up, in any way whatsoever, on behalf of Mr. Sterling. And so Silver has been riding a wave, but he's certainly brought the whip hand down about as hard as he could.

Whether he can do anymore is dubious, Steve. It's awfully hard to make an owner sell anything. As far as I know, the last team owner in sports forced to sell was a guy named Fred Saigh, who owned the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953. And he was on the way to the penitentiary for tax evasion. Sterling hasn't done anything against the law.

INSKEEP: And we know of at least one NBA owner - Mark Cuban - who says it's wrong to make someone divest themselves of their property just because of something they said in their home, no matter how horrible it would be.

DEFORD: Yes. You've got to remember that the Clippers themselves have not done anything wrong. Sometimes you get into situations where a company is found guilty of civil rights legislation, so forth. It's also the case that Donald Sterling is known as a very litigious man. He is not going to go softly into the night.

INSKEEP: And we do have this impressive-sounding penalty, a lifetime ban from the game. But when people are banned for life, it doesn't always last for life, does it?

DEFORD: No. (Laughter) The last owner to be banned was George Steinbrenner in 1990, by Commissioner Fay Vincent in baseball. And that was supposed to be a lifetime ban - it was advertised as such; and Steinbrenner was back in three years and ran the team, essentially, until he died. Pete Rose remains about the most significant person in sports whose lifetime ban has held up.

INSKEEP: So we do not know how severe, really, the punishment will be that Donald Sterling will face. But let me ask you, for now at least, he cannot go to NBA games for the first yield future. Is there something poetic here in Donald Sterling being banned from the very same games that he wanted to prevent other people from attending?

DEFORD: (Laughter) There is a certain, wonderful irony in that. He's been, in effect, excommunicated. And that is pretty much the full powers of the commissioner. You may get the owners voting, but it would be more, I think, symbolic than anything else. And be careful what you wish for because once the commissioner is given broader powers against one owner, he can apply those against others.

And one thing I think that may have a carryover factor here, is that I think it puts more pressure on another commissioner - Roger Goodell, of the NFL - to try and force Daniel Snyder, of the Washington Redskins, to drop that name. That remains, now, the most inflammatory issue in sports - the Redskins. If Donald Sterling insulted a minority and is essentially thrown out of the game, then there may be similar sensitivity training that's needed in the NFL, with regard to the Redskins.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks for your insights, as always.

DEFORD: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us most Wednesdays on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.