The NBA today, taking a step it almost had to take given the amount of public pressure it was under, banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million. In addition, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he will urge league governors to force Sterling to sell the team. In case you missed it, TMZ posted audio of a racist rant attributed to Sterling, in which he instructs his girlfriend that she shouldn't associate with black people or bring them to Clippers games. The remarks were condemned by everyone from NBA great Magic Johnson and athletes in other sports to President Barack Obama and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
The punishment was beyond well-deserved. And it's an encouraging sign that vile racism of the sort purportedly displayed by Sterling (he has offered some half-defenses) was met with such swift action, this time. After all, Sterling has had race-related controversies swirling around him for years, but the new media landscape garnered his latest remarks a much bigger audience than, say, the fact that he had to settle with the Department of Justice after discriminating against blacks and Latinos in apartment buildings he owned. As such, the NBA found itself in an untenable situation and with its own business interests threatened, forcing it to take action. (Why the league suffered him for so long, and whether the fine is enough considering it's a drop in the bucket of his vast fortune, are open questions.)
After the incident, a number of players and fans took to social media to post pictures of themselves eating bananas, in a show of support for Alves.
FIFA, international soccer's governing body, meanwhile, condemned the banana-throwing incident, and Villareal banned the offending fan for life. Swift condemnation of racist incidents, in fact, has become the norm in European soccer, with even high-profile players getting suspended for racist behavior.
None of this is to say that racism is no longer a concern or to encourage complacency. Obviously, both the U.S. and Europe have a long, long way to go in combating racism in public life and in showing the Donald Sterlings of the world that they're not welcome in the sports arena.
But it was only 50 years ago that the federal government was forced to threaten Washington, D.C.'s, football team in order to get it to integrate, as its wildly racist owner George Preston Marshall refused to allow African-Americans to play on his squad at all. Now, the heavy hammer of public opinion comes down on sports owners who reside on Marshall's level and forces the leagues themselves to take action. And that's progress.