Sterling’s punishment due; more to be done in pro sports

Bernard Goldberg, who spent nearly three decades with CBS News and currently is a contributor to HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” made an interesting observation Tuesday morning, before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made his pronouncement on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Sterling, Goldberg explained, does not represent proof that racism is alive and well in America – it’s the opposite, he said, demonstrated by the universal condemnation of Sterling and the racist remarks he is accused of uttering.

Goldberg, and author and radio host Dennis Prager, also have questioned whether the recording of Sterling represents too great a loss of personal privacy, to the point that it is unreasonable. Goldberg notes, “I’m wondering who else among us has said things in the privacy of our homes that would get us in trouble if somebody recorded them and made our remarks public.”

There but for the grace of God go I.

I feel no sorrow for Sterling, who has faced accusations of discrimination in the past, both related to his team and in his real estate dealings. While I think some of the punishment the NBA handed down Tuesday could be subject to legal challenge, I also think Sterling would be wise to cut and run – this is a game he can’t win.

Interestingly, the first question of substance at Tuesday’s press conference came not from the Associated Press, or ESPN, or any other major network. It was a reporter from the TV tabloid “Inside Edition,” who challenged Silver as to why it was only now that the league was acting against Sterling. Of course, Silver dodged the question.

I think Goldberg makes sound points, especially when you look at the crimes committed by countless professional athletes that are far more serious than a racial slur – and how many of those athletes have returned to the game, even after being convicted.

In that regard, though, the NBA has a better record than you might think. Roughly a dozen and a half NBA players have been convicted of serious crimes, including violent crimes ranging from assault to rape. But most have entered the criminal phase of their life after leaving the game – often, not surprisingly, tied to drug use.

Perhaps the worst offender who was given the chance to return was Ruben Patterson, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1998. His career took him to five other teams – including Sterling’s – carrying convictions for attempted rape of his child’s nanny and misdemeanor assault, along with accusations of felony domestic abuse and failing to register as a sex offender. His last arrest, for DUI, is the only one that came after his basketball career.

Charles Smith, who was undrafted and played briefly with the Boston Celtics, served time on a vehicular homicide conviction; when he got out of prison, he returned to the pros for seven years, including a brief stint in the NBA with Minnesota.

Longtime Atlanta Hawk “Fast Eddie” Johnson was banned for life by the NBA after years of drug-related issues; he was arrested and convicted of a number of crimes in his post-basketball career, culminating in several charges involving sexual crimes with children.

And Tom Payne was arrested at the end of his first year in Atlanta, charged with rapes both in the Atlanta area and Kentucky, where he had gone to college. He has spent most of his adult life behind bars.

More incidents come to mind of players accused, even charged, but never convicted – of course, that applies to Sterling, too.

Baseball has been lax, at least when it comes to drugs, Steve Howe being example No. 1.

Hockey is violent by nature, and has seen its players criminally charged for actions on the ice more than a dozen times. The most notable is the 2004 incident in which Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi was given a conditional discharge in court after pleading guilty for an incident involving Colorado’s Steve Moore. Moore’s career ended, but Bertuzzi was allowed to return to hockey.

More serious were vehicular homicide convictions of Craig MacTavish, with Boston at the time, and Dany Heatley, then with the Atlanta Thrashers; both continued in hockey long after their minimal sentences were complete.

And the NFL? Well, there’s enough violent crime there for another column – and even if the perpetrators lose their football job, it seems there’s always a way to get back in the game. Just ask Michael Irvin.


Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at