Maybe everyone is already tired of the Donald Sterling story – but since Bryant Gumbel painted Jim Crane with the same brush as Sterling and since long time blog contrarian, Bopert, has a giant “I told you so” hanging over our heads – I think it is a reasonable thing to discuss.
As a reminder – Sterling was just banned for life by the NBA for telling his mistress that she should not be hanging with people of color in public or be seen with them in publicly published Instagram pictures. Sterling had previously battled through a number of discrimination suits and accusations in the past and apparently behind the scenes has treated African American employees with an almost plantation mentality.
Flash to yesterday and Bryant Gumbel sent this cannon shot across Jim Crane’s bow.
“I don’t want us to sit here, singling out the NBA, because they are not necessarily the exception to the rule,” Gumbel said. “I mean baseball, for example, has an owner down in Houston who has kind of the same tortured history as Donald Sterling, in that his company was sued for discrimination and wound up paying a settlement, and has said some things attributed to him that are inopportune.”
Note – In the late 1990s, Astros owner Jim Crane’s company Eagle Global Logistics faced claims of discrimination by minorities and women. A review found that only 203 out of 2,073 claims had any merit, and employees and applicants were awarded around $900,000 in the resulting settlement.
The Astros published an immediate long rebuttal of the Gumbel quote that included the following wording.
The judge stated that the EEOC was “relying on third-rate gossip in order to impugn” EGL and Jim and they were “taking positions that have no factual or legal merit.” In order to avoid the high cost of litigation, EGL agreed to set up a settlement fund that was used to investigate and pay claims. Almost 90% of the funds were eventually returned to EGL because of the lack of valid claims. Not one of the plaintiffs who made the inflammatory allegations ever received a penny.
So, there are some parallels between Sterling and Crane in previous litigation – though Sterling’s were against him personally, while Crane’s were against his former company. On the other side of the coin – there has always been bad talk about Sterling as a vile person, while many folks who know him have been very supportive of Jim Crane.
While Donald Sterling’s permanent ban from the NBA is the equivalent of an ownership death penalty, it is not without precedent in sport. In Feb. 1993, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was suspended for one year and fined $25,000 after a series of racist and insensitive comments. In 1996, she was suspended for life after stating her support for Adolf Hitler – he “was good in the beginning but went too far.” Duh – ya think so?
So we know that along with Marge Schott, there might have been a few other racist owners in the past – like the ones who decided that no black player was good enough until Branch Rickey forced the issue with Jackie Robinson. And there is a good chance that removing Donald Sterling probably does not remove the last of the existing racist owners in major American sports. But is Crane one of those folks?
Personally, I do not think that Jim Crane and Donald Sterling have very much in common other than a lot more disposable income than the average Joe. I also think that Bryant Gumbel should be a man and admit that he went too far with his accusations. But where do you fall in this discussion?