It’s been a rough week for Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks. Her email and voicemail have been flooded with messages — some of them stern and others Sterno-hot with anger — about a line she wrote in a weekend piece about disgraced and freshly banned Los Angeles Clippers basketball team owner Donald Sterling after his recorded racist remarks about black people.
“Let the real estate magnate take his millions and buy a hockey team,” she wrote. “Then he won’t have to worry about black superstars showing up for games on his girlfriend’s arm.”
The line struck a nerve with hockey fans, particularly among fans of color who regularly confront the misconception — from within minority communities and without — that the game is an exclusively white one with little room for diversity. Wednesday, Banks posted a piece on the Times’ website explaining her weekend column.
“I realized the danger of intemperate comments on anything race-related this week after a post I wrote about Clippers owner Donald Sterling landed me, in the eyes of hockey fans, right up there with Sterling — whose bigoted comments just got him banned from the NBA,” she wrote.
Her mea culpa went on to explain that the “buy a hockey team” line was an attempt to be clever. She quickly learned that many readers thought otherwise. “I understand now why those lines struck a nerve,” she wrote. “It felt like a gratuitous joke at the expense of the National Hockey League, which does have black players on most of its teams.”
But what Banks doesn’t understand is the vitriolic hate and meanness in some of the comments by some fans. “Complaints from hockey fans flooded my inbox, many laced with racial slurs and insults: I’m an ignorant, ugly, racist gorilla — and worse that can’t be printed,” she wrote. “Their rants make Sterling seem enlightened by comparison.”
What Banks wrote in her initial column was wrong and hockey fans of all persuasions had a right to complain. But being passionate is one thing, poisoning that passion with hateful responses is another. Disagree, yes. Denigrate, no.
If Banks was a hockey player, referees might have given her a two-minute slashing penalty for her unfortunate line. But the refs would have also handed out game misconducts to authors of the more hateful and racially tinged responses left in the comments section after Banks’ Sterling piece.
And it’s not like Banks was the only person in the world to make a flippant remark about Sterling shedding the Clippers and perhaps moving on to a sport that’s supposedly minority-free. On “CBS This Morning” this week, co-anchor Gayle King suggested that Sterling should perhaps consider buying a polo team.
Maybe she didn’t realize that a predominantly black youth polo team from inner-city Philadelphia’s Work to Ride program twice won the National Interscholastic Polo Championship, even though the ground-breaking program was featured in the past on “60 Minutes” and the “CBS Evening News.” Kareem Rosser, a former Work to Ride member, played for Colorado State University’s nationally ranked polo team last year.
Perhaps the best response to Banks’ Sterling column came from Donnie Shaw, a Washington resident and the proud father of Donnie Shaw III, a hockey player for New York’s Elmira College, alum of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the nation’s oldest minority youth hockey program, and an NHL Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship recipient. Instead of a poison pen, the elder Shaw emailed Banks a short message and pictures of his son and other black kids playing hockey.
“I know you didn’t mean any harm with your statement about blacks attending NHL Hockey, with a lady on the side,” the elder Shaw wrote. “I’m not going to do a Change.Org petition to get you to retract your line about us doing hockey. However, as a longtime Hockey Dad I want you to know that is not cool for you to make that statement … these days. Oh! My son is a former competitive swimmer and he plays lacrosse.”
Even in the throes of disagreement, consideration trumps cruelty any day.
ABOUT THE WRITER
William Douglas is a reporter for the McClatchy Washington Bureau and a blogger at colorofhockey.com. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.