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By Lori Latrice Martin | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)



Friday, May 02, 2014.


The story buried in the headlines of the Sterling scandal is the transformation of society’s perception of Magic Johnson over the past couple of decades. In the early 1990s—when I was a senior in high school—the legendary Irving "Magic" Johnson revealed he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The news shocked the sports world and the broader society.


Magic not only battled against the disease—which was at the time still considered an almost certain death sentence—but he also battled the ignorance and intolerance that many people living with HIV and AIDS faced during that period. He raised funds and awareness.


Over the next few years he served also as a sports analyst and a generator of economic development in distressed communities. Magic soon regained his status as an ambassador of the game.


Sterling has clearly made a number of misjudgments and missteps-to put it mildly-but this time, “he messed with the wrong one.” Previous allegations from the likes of NBA great Elgin Baylor, and scores of prospective black and Hispanic renters, fell on deaf ears. It is doubtful that reactions to Sterling's comments would have been as visceral if Sterling’s alleged girlfriend had posted a picture of herself with Dennis Rodman or Meta World Peace (nee Ron Artest).


It is questionable whether some athletes would have responded as Magic responded—taking Sterling up on his request not to attend Clippers games for example and organizing efforts to mobilize a league, without his leadership. After all, contemporary black athletes have been described as a lost tribe by a host of individuals, including William Rhoden, author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves.


Magic's leadership on this issue cannot be understated. The players were able to show what could be accomplished through collective action. To be fair the immediate outcome is largely symbolic and does little to address the systematic racism, which exists in virtually every American social institution.


The Sterling issue to date, however, has reminded us that the idea that we are living in a post-racial society is a myth. The Sterling scandal also provided further evidence that, contrary to some claims, Black America is not disuniting because of class differences. Race still matters.


The recent Supreme Court decision on the use of race in college admission, coupled with the comments and actions by Clive Bundy and Donald Sterling show that class provides little cover for blacks in the 21st century.


The continued racial disparities between blacks and whites on a host of sociological outcomes point to the continued significance of race. Players, fans, and anyone committed to the principles of fairness, equality, and justice must keep up the pressure on sports and other American social institutions to address the policies and private practices that contribute to the gap between society as it, and society as it should be.



Lori Latrice Martin is Associate Professor of Sociology at LSU. Martin is the author of Black Asset Poverty and the Enduring Racial Divide and the forthcoming White Sports/Black Sports: Racial Disparities in  Athletic Programs (Praeger Press).


America: A Magic Moment

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