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In times of crisis, what we can learn from the NBA, and the Sherpas

In too many egregious, oppressive situations, there isn't a hero
What better -- albeit tragic -- time for the Sherpas to make a resounding statement?

I’m not a basketball fan, although I’m as appalled and anguished as the next gal over the Clippers affair.

Gloriously, in this case, someone quickly stepped forward to do the right thing and take the right action. Kudos, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned from the NBA for life and has to pay a $2.5 million fine for his alleged racist comments leaked over the weekend.

But in too many egregious, oppressive situations, there isn’t a hero.

And that’s why I think the Sherpas (yes, I do mean the guides in Nepal) — who lack someone like Silver to speak for them — are doing exactly the right thing. Sometimes, the answer is simply to “pause,” to stop climbing, or to stop playing. Just stop for a moment.

I’m not alone in my camp.

As former Clipper and now-analyst Marques Johnson, who played for Sterling’s team in the 1980s, told Time magazine as the controversy mounted this weekend: “Sometimes the severity of the situation supersedes the notion of ‘the show must go on.’ Forget about all the sanitized statements.... Don’t play the game. No one would have ever blamed them.”

But back to the Sherpas, who may be guiding the world in a wholly different way this year.

As The Times’ Shashank Bengali wrote late last week after a devastating avalanche killed 16 guides:

“Most [Sherpas] don’t want to scale the mountain this year out of respect for [those] who were buried under the snow and ice, and because of fears of more avalanches.... The unprecedented standoff has pitted some trekking companies and the Nepalese government — which earns $3.3 million a year from climbing permits and millions more in Everest-related tourism revenue — against the Sherpas, the small, peaceable Himalayan tribe whose people are the workhorses for the expeditions. As the number of foreign climbers paying as much as $100,000 for a chance to summit Everest has grown in recent years, the Sherpas, who hope to earn $5,000 a year, have begun to agitate for better death and injury benefits.”

Initially, the avalanche victims’ families were offered $400.

And watch what’s happening, as expeditions are canceled and scores of mountaineers are departing the Everest region and everyone is taking a big collective breath: The conversation is turning to long-simmering but crucial issues of mountain safety and security, crowding and climbing expertise.

So here’s a vote for ex-Clipper Johnson’s stated position (yes, I know about the playoffs). As Johnson said so eloquently: “A one-game forfeit would have sent a historic social message: We won’t stand for the racism.”

He also said the players should have demanded a face-to-face meeting with Sterling: “The players had all the leverage here.”

Ditto for the Sherpa leverage: What better — albeit tragic — time for them to make a resounding statement?

With most of the Sherpas apparently sitting out this climbing season, it makes sense that there will be pressure — and time — to resolve some of the less-publicized conflicts.

Who knows, maybe this “time out” notion has some legs.

Isn’t it in everyone’s interest to pause, regroup, start fresh with a more respectful approach — safer and saner — to climbing the world’s prestigious peaks?

And in playing sports too? Adam Silver obviously thinks so.


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Sara Lessley is a freelance journalist and editing coach in Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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