Man In The Mirror: An Honest Look At The Donald Sterling Saga
Today is proof that progress is and always will be an evolutionary process.
"We are one." If only this rally cry posted on the Los Angeles Clippers website in response to the scandal involving owner Donald Sterling were a universal truth, well, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.
While actions are now set in place to ban Sterling from the NBA for life, the incident prompting “we are one” should remind us that Sterling is not the end-all, be-all face of discrimination. There are millions of other individual and institutional bigots around the globe.
For those of us who follow the Clippers and the NBA, as well as anyone who reads the newspaper here in Los Angeles, we’ve known all too well about Sterling’s rap sheet. ESPN wrote a horribly damaging piece back in 2009 which detailed lawsuits filed against Sterling by both the Justice Department and basketball great Elgin Baylor, claiming disgusting instances of illegally bigoted business practices and workplace discrimination.
Other NBA owners, the league office, and advertisers were also aware of these allegations throughout the years.
I’m guilty too. As a young adult, I became conscious of Sterling’s reputation when lawsuits against him were covered by the Los Angeles Times and other news sources I followed. I remember discussing Sterling and his nauseating practices (both in his other business ventures and running a basketball franchise into the ground) with my friends, family and co-workers. For some reason my distain for the man never stopped me from watching Clippers games on TV or buying tickets and merchandise. Why didn’t I - as someone who comes from a family of activists and Holocaust survivors, and has had the pleasure of spending time with people like Tommie Smith and John Carlos - take any proactive measures to voice my views in such a way to make a tangible difference? Why didn’t I put my money where my mouth was, instead of straight into Sterling’s filthy, sexist, racist pockets?
Actions speak louder than words and Sterling’s actions were heinous long before the words on this tape were recorded. Sterling’s actions were far more harmful to our society than Sterling’s words. Shame on us for taking the easy way out and doing nothing while leaving people like L.A. renters hoping to live in safe, healthy residences and Elgin Baylor to fight the good fight alone.
It’s a shame that many of us ignored Donald Sterling’s discriminatory actions for so long thus further enabling him, but today is finally a step in the right direction.
Finally, we can, in a way, pay homage to the struggles and sacrifices made by so many in the sports world over the last 65 years. Hopefully the NFL will take a page from the short-but-brilliant Adam Silver playbook and get its ass in gear to change a racist team name that has been tolerated for way too long.
Thankfully, the Sterling debacle doubles as a teachable moment in which we can learn valuable lessons about history, justice and ourselves. This is the evolution of progress.
Watch a live stream of Going Roggin, Sundays at midnight.
Are you still up? If so, tune into KNBC ch. 4 here in L.A., or click the link above to watch the live stream of Going Roggin. I’m on with the man, Fred Roggin, and am570’s Tim Cates debating the hottest topics in sports. Up next? Clippers, and the always exciting, Rapid Fire segment. Tune in ASAP and tweet me @jackie_pepper. Thanks everyone!
Jackie Pepper reports that, despite the tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp and Pistorius’s subsequent fall from grace, fellow paralympic athletes still find inspiration from his rise to fame as they carry the torch for the next generation.
*Click the headline/link above to read the original article
February 14, 2013. Valentine’s Day in Pretoria, South Africa.
Late Wednesday evening, I sat at my computer and saw a tweet on my timeline that made my heart sink and momentarily stop beating. Reports out of South Africa were that the Olympic star Oscar Pistorius had mistaken his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder in his home, shooting her to death.
As a sports reporter who has been around athletes my entire life and has worked with them professionally for a decade, I am cautious when it comes to believing public images fed to me by publicists, media outlets, etc. Looks are often very deceiving and being a victim of deception is the kind of humiliation I loathe suffering.
That said, I let my guard down when it came to Pistorius. I threw the book at my usual cynicism and allowed myself to digest at face value the countless human interest stories about the double amputee defying the odds athletically while inspiring millions worldwide.
Feverishly, I refreshed my Twitter timeline hoping that what I had read was yet another sickening online rumor or prank. After several minutes and various stories emerging from mainstream media outlets, I was reduced to tears coming to the realization that something so heinous had happened on account of someone who I believed to be one of the rare, true sports heroes to walk this earth.
Deeply moved by the news coming from South Africa, I decided to reach out to those who knew Oscar Pistorius and one person, in particular, a former UCLA football player who had recently lost a leg, who was inspired by the blade runner while suffering the trauma of amputation.
Regardless of the outcome of the Pistorius trial, there will be no positive results in this case. An innocent woman lost her life at the hands of her boyfriend who either killed her purposely, or by accident. Either way, one life was lost and another ruined by a Valentine’s Day tragedy.
The interviews you’ll read in my article, published by The Good Men Project, were conducted within a week of the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp. I hope you find the insight offered by those who know Oscar Pistorius as fascinating as I did.
The older you get, the more often you find yourself staring down that damn grim reaper as he takes all kinds of people from this world. Some you love, some you hate, and billions you never knew existed.
Helaine Esterson’s existence was “magnificent,” according to one of her life-long friends who spoke at her funeral today. Helaine, who died last Friday, was a beloved fixture of my summer camp.
If you read this blog often, you’ve likely seen me wax poetic about life at sleep-away camp, not only as a camper during my childhood and teenage years, but also as a counselor and eventually, a supervisor later in my illustrious camp career. :)
When the news broke of a sexual abuse scandal and alleged coverup at Penn State University a few years ago, I stood on my virtual high horse condemning those incompetent and diabolical adults, citing the fact that my fellow camp counselors and I better handled a sexual abuse admission (and other horrid revelations that arise when you live with hundreds of children and teenagers for eight weeks in the summer time) when we were only 19 years old. Now that I’ve had a few years to reflect on that passage I wrote, I still stand by it 100%. It would do a disservice to Helaine’s teachings and guidance to take anything away from how we handled that situation.
Helaine was our camp’s social worker. Helaine devoted her time to training all of camp’s supervisors, as well as all of the counselors. Days-long training sessions were held in which Helaine methodically, year after year, found new ways to teach old lessons that would serve as life preservers every single summer, without fail. Helaine was always so proud when we found ways to navigate such treacherous waters despite our youth and inexperience.
Aside from her background as a social worker (including several years working at the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center), Helaine served our camp community (and me in particular) as a teacher, therapist, mentor, voice of reason, parent, and friend. The way this woman could connect with seemingly any individual was absolutely phenomenal.
Her voice was calming and soothing. She had an answer for nearly everything and even when she didn’t, that voice and language she used would often help provide clarity by way of simply shifting the way one viewed the situation or perceived problem.
At this point, you are likely asking yourself, “what does this lady have to do with sports reporting?” Since you asked, here’s your answer.
As any good therapist or social worker would, Helaine taught us to ask questions without judgement. If you wanted to get to the bottom of something (a behavioral issue, the motivation behind a child or coworker’s actions, etc.), you’d better be patient, present and empathetic.
Something that came up in nearly every single eulogy given at Helaine’s funeral today was her tried and true saying, “be present.” While Helaine was full of great advice and suggestions, that wealth of knowledge came from a deep well in which she stored a flowing sea of information acquired through listening. Decades of listening. A lifetime of listening. Her lifetime of listening.
As supervisors who were responsible not only for the lives of hundreds of children entrusted to us by their parents every summer, we were also responsible for our staff, which was primarily made up of college students. Yes, it wasn’t just the campers that arrived with emotional baggage, but also our own employees who would seek (consciously or unconsciously) our counsel throughout the grind of a summer at sleep-away camp.
Be present. Be aware of your surroundings and the actions of others. Listen to the verbal cues. Watch body language. Ask questions and have empathy.
11 years ago, Helaine told my co-counselor (and now one of my best friends) and I that our listening abilities and genuine empathy for other human beings were two of the things that made us great camp counselors and role models for our young teenage campers, especially the girls.
I’ve struggled with the beast that is the sports television business over the last three years, at times being unemployed or underemployed. On the flip side, the down time gave me great opportunities to go back to camp for weeks at a time to help out, and lets be honest, re-live the glory days by returning to that special place that so strongly molded me into the adult I am today.
During these times, Helaine and I would talk about all kinds of things. Now as an adult, we had things outside of the camp world to discuss, which was always a treat. Helaine was incredibly supportive of my career choice, subjectively professing that those TV hacks didn’t know what the hell they were missing by not hiring me. She also pointed out that no matter what I chose to do for a living, I would bring joy to those in my occupational community.
Helaine told me she wasn’t surprised in the least that I had become a reporter and interviewed people for a living. She said that while yes, my yapping abilities were tough to beat, she was always struck by my desire to listen to others. To know and connect with other people.
This particular conversation (which took place in the summer of 2013 over lunch in the dining hall when Helaine was up at camp visiting) struck me. Helaine said what makes me a good reporter is the ability to develop strong, close and trusting relationships with people I cover. She said that people can tell that I genuinely care about their lives and have a sense of empathy. Helaine said that authenticity would set me apart from many others.
I think she was on to something.
I’ve always said that sport is a microcosm of society. The sports world faces all the same issues that the “real world” does, just on a different scale and sometimes, with different rules (the integration of baseball before the integration of the United States of America thanks to Brown vs. Board of Education, for example).
While I love the games themselves because of the athletic competition and the suspense of spontaneous outcomes, the people who play and watch the games are the glue that holds the whole package together. The funny, tantalizing, triumphant and tragic stories surrounding the sports world are what keep me in this thing for the long haul.
So many tools that I use as a journalist, I picked up via training and teachable moments while working with kids and colleagues at camp during the course of several years. Many of those tools were given to me by Helaine Esterson.
Often times we choose to glorify people in death. We choose to turn a blind eye to the bad, solely recalling the good. We choose to place folks atop a pedestal in memoriam despite never considering such worthiness in life.
Helaine was not one of those people. Her funeral did not consist of phony, cherry-picked stories designed to skew the conversation and force us to remember only the positive. The words spoken about Helaine today were funny, moving, and most importantly, honest.
At least in my little world, Helaine was always on a pedestal, right where she belonged.
Knowing Helaine has made me not just a better journalist, but a better human being. She will be missed, but thankfully her wisdom will continue to serve the community through the countless lives she touched.