Defining Moments

A story I have often told to illustrate our relationship with time is about a man at a party commiserating with others that he had lived more than half his life. The concept of “counting up our days” means that while we may be aware of the quantity of our days, the quality is never known. A day, hour or moment may be so defining for us that it qualitatively changes everything. Counting up—we are currently counting up the 50 days of the “Omer”—a 50 day count from Passover to the holiday of Shavuot, instructs us to consider the preciousness and eternity of each day, each hour, and each moment.

 

Donald Tokowitz, aka Donald Sterling, is a case in point. In his 81st year, just 3 weeks shy of receiving his second Lifetime Achievement award from the NAACP, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles (basketball) Clippers has been banned for “life” from the National Basketball Association for his racist comments. Mr. Sterling has a long history of documented racist attitudes but the defining moments are a mere 15 minute phone conversation during which his true colors were revealed for all to hear.

 

It is also a defining moment for many others. The NAACP, embarrassed by the controversy, announced it is withdrawing their award to Mr. Sterling to have been presented on May 15th in Los Angeles as part of the celebration of the chapter’s 100th anniversary. It is easy to castigate the NAACP for overlooking Mr. Sterling’s record (it is public in a number of profiled discrimination lawsuits filed against him and his former wife) because of his philanthropic contributions—the headlines have read “Why is the NCAA in bed with a racist?”

 

We tend to look outward in our justified horror and shame at prejudice and racism. I have heard many students this week say with a sense of shame—“and he is Jewish” and raise criticism of the NAACP for overlooking this man’s racism? The question though is one that we can and must turn inward. In what ways do we overlook our own prejudices and negativity toward others? By focusing on Mr. Sterling and the NAACP we could easily overlook our own human weakness—our need to feel “superior” at the cost of the dignity of others.

 

What was the rationale of the NAACP? Mr. Sterling was not only a donor he has also provided free tickets to thousands of children at every Clipper’s home game. Perhaps, as his detractors have noted, his generosity was motivated by “filling seats.” I can’t help think of even just one of those young patrons that attended basketball games on the invite of Mr. Sterling, his or her smiling face and wonder if sitting there was not only a thrill but a defining life moment.

 

That is a legacy of this moment: An opportunity to look inside ourselves and to accept the reality of our own prejudices and transcend them. That extends to our disgust toward Mr. Sterling and NAACP.