HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – In less than a week, an NBA owner’s racist feelings were exposed to the world and swift action was taken by Commissioner Adam Silver to ensure that Donald Sterling was banned from the sport forever. But some question whether the NBA should also take a stand against individuals who use racial or homophobic slurs on the court during games.
“Historically there have always been exchanges between men during game play that could be considered racist and disrespectful,” J. Ronald Oswalt, a sports expert, told CBS Houston. “The ‘N’ word is always going to have a negative image associated with it but it doesn’t compare to the racist remarks by Sterling.”
Oswalt, who is the CEO and founder of Sports Marketing Experts which operates ProjectSpurs.com, one of the largest NBA blogs in the nation, explained that what is said on the court is extremely different from what’s said off the court.
“What is said on the court is between individual players and though it may be used in a derogatory way, it is not a blatant attack against a specific race,” Oswalt said. “Many things are said in the heat of battle that are quickly forgotten and forgiven, chalked up as something said under pressure or excitement. What is said on the field, court, etc., stays there.”
Oswalt continued on by reiterating that when players do use racial or homophobic slurs on the court, it’s not something of malice like what Sterling stated on the recordings.
“What Sterling said was an entirely different set of circumstances,” Oswalt stated. “There was no provoking, pushing, prodding from another player. It was not something said between individual players or even between teams. Sterling’s statements were made with malice toward a group of human beings of a certain race.”
He doesn’t think that the Sterling situation should cause the NBA to go after players for using the “N” word on the court or in locker rooms.
“Being around NBA players, the ‘N’ word is just second nature and habit for some of them,” Oswalt shared. “Being around players and in locker rooms, I’ve never heard a player use it in a negative manner and to some it’s similar to saying brother or friend. Breaking a lifelong habit and imposing fines would be a tough sell for Adam Silver. The NBA would struggle with the Players Association if they tried to do this.”
Former NFL player and sports expert Wade Davis disagrees. He said that he doesn’t think it would be too hard for the NBA to manage players who used racial slurs to one another on the court and that something needs to change.
“They could create a fine system and I also think there should be some education implemented for both owners and players,” Davis, who is the Executive Director of the You Can Play Project, told CBS Houston. “If they were given fines, they would comply with the rule because most of those players don’t want to throw away money.”
However, Davis did explain that going after players for foul language on the court shouldn’t be the response to the Sterling situation.
“I don’t think this should be the response to what’s happening because it’s two separate things,” Davis said. “As far as players using the ‘N’ word with each other it’s a different dynamic than an owner who has racist and archaic views of a group of people.”
Davis, who has played for the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, thinks that instead the NBA should work with the players and owners to create a more open environment in light of Sterling’s comments and views becoming public knowledge.
“The NBA should work with the players and have an open conversation about the environment and what kind of message the owners and players want to send out to the world,” he shared. “The conversation can’t just be a one-way street, it needs to be reciprocated. This is a time for the league and the players to come together and say how can we clean things up on both ends. Before the Sterling thing happened, the conversation was about what the players should or shouldn’t do. Now it’s not.”
Davis said that in this process of cleaning up the NBA, the league needs to do more checking on whom it allows to play for them and also own a team.
“They need to make sure owners and practices aren’t racist or homophobic,” Davis said. “But we also need to make sure the same kinds of things aren’t happening on court with players.”