Letters from the Editor: Clippers' controversy hits close to home

My family became Clippers' fans last year.

I know what you're thinking, but we didn't hop on the bandwagon.

The nephew of one of the players is in my daughter's second-grade class. When school started in September, he told her about his uncle, whom I don't feel comfortable naming but will say is an outstanding outside shooter. Much of the class was excited.

My daughter said she wanted to watch a Clippers game — something she'd never done before — because of her classmate's enthusiasm. So in October we watched the first game of the season. She went nuts every time her friend's uncle touched the ball.

The Lakers pounded the Clippers, 116-103, that night but my daughter adopted the "people's team." We watched nearly every game of the season, even attending one at Staples Center. In her room, my daughter has a framed photo of Blake Griffin dunking. She tried out for and won a spot on a local co-ed basketball team. She plays ball daily at school. She's a standout in soccer, but basketball is now her favorite sport.

All because of the Clippers.

So when the news hit that team owner Donald Sterling made racist remarks, my wife and I felt destroyed, not only for the fans and the players, but for our daughter. How would we explain this? Could we ever back the team again? Would people look at her askance if she wore her treasured Clippers T-shirt — the one we gave her for being named student of the month — in public?

One of the best things about children is they are largely unaware of race, loving pretty much anyone who loves them.

My daughter has learned about Martin Luther King Jr. in school. She knows about Jackie Robinson. She's studied segregation and slavery.

But these ideas are obscure to her. Every time she learns about racism, she is told that it was in the past. Her teachers — her parents too — tell her that America used to be that way, omitting that some of it, heck much of it, still is.

Eight-year-olds think the world is just, fair and good, and parents and teachers don't want to be the ones to break the news that, well, in fact it's not.

Sterling, I imagine, forced a lot of families to have a talk they didn't want to have last week.

I sat my daughter down and explained that the owner of the Clippers said some bad things.

"What kind of things?" she asked.

"Racist things," I explained.

"I don't know what that word means," she said.

I did my best to explain. Just try to define racism in words a child can understand and you realize how absolutely absurd the concept is.

But I think she got it.

I am at a loss to explain how sad she looked at that moment, but I swear I could see a little more of her innocence evaporate like a raindrop in Death Valley.

"He should go to jail," she said of Sterling. "Forever."

That led to a tangent about what's good about America, about freedom of speech, and she acquiesced on her demands to put Sterling behind iron.

We explained that it was still OK to support the coach and his players, just not the owner. My wife and I privately were unsure if we should let our daughter keep rooting for the Clippers. The T-shirt would stay in its drawer for the playoffs.

We were relieved when the NBA at least temporarily solved the problem by locking out Sterling for life. We could go back to rooting for the team, at least for the time being, without the stigma of supporting its tarnished owner.

The NBA gave fans a reprieve. So on Saturday night, we'll be there for our Clippers when they play Golden State in Game 7. If they win, we'll stay with them into the next round of the playoffs.

Who knows what will come after that. Sterling may fight to keep the team. He may be banned from the court, but he could win in the courtroom. He may do the right thing and sell. As fans we'll reassess when the events transpire.

But if Sterling stays, we'll go.

JOHN CANALIS is the editor for the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and john.canalis@latimes.com.

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