Amid the controversy over the alleged racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden challenged Clippers fans Monday on "CBS This Morning" to consider who is benefiting from their attendance in games.
"I think this is a moral issue for fans, for the consumers," Rhoden said. "I keep thinking about what happened in Montgomery, Ala., when black folks in Alabama said, 'You know what? We're not riding the buses anymore.' When the consumer's speaking, 'We're not buying this product anymore.'"
While the players are under contract, fans are not, said Rhoden.
"The players have already said in so many words, 'If we didn't have to be here, we wouldn't.' The fans, the spectators who are going to buy the popcorn, who are going to pay for parking -- all these things accrue to whose benefit? The owner."
In an audio recording posted Saturday on TMZ's website, a man purported to be Sterling is heard making racist remarks to his bi-racial girlfriend, V. Stiviano, asking her not to bring black people to games. If these comments were genuinely made by Sterling, Rhoden said Sterling should be suspended at the very least.
As for Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Rhoden also referenced the coach's contract.
"Doc could make a great stand in principle, say 'I'm not coming back,' and I would really respect him for that. But I'd also respect him if he says, 'Listen, I'm coaching for my players...' Because again, many of us may work for people or have worked for people who don't particularly like the fact that you're there. Does that make you stay away, or do you keep on fighting the good fight?"
After listening to the audio recordings, some noted that not only was Sterling saying these things in the privacy of his own home, but the girlfriend also seemed to be goading him on.
"Yeah, she was leading him, but clearly if you're a racist, you're a racist," Rhoden said. "That's the reality, the fact that this guy holds these views. And you're right -- in the privacy of your own home you say things, but if you hold certain feelings, certain attitudes and it comes out, you've got to deal with the consequences."
These feelings, however, were known in the industry, Rhoden said, but it was not completely odd that Sterling employed many minorities.
"That's almost because in that industry and the NBA, you've got to hire black players to earn money for your franchise. It doesn't mean you necessarily have to love them."
The controversy with Sterling erupted a month before the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP was to honor him with a lifetime achievement award. The NAACP has since said they would not be awarding Sterling.
"When things like this happen everybody kind of gets exposed. Your relationships, who you deal with. People will say, 'Wait a minute, why are you dealing with this guy?' 'Well, because he was giving me a contribution.' So now everybody's kind of embarrassed because a lot of people have been dealing with somebody who many, many people know has kind of been like this."
The NAACP said Monday that they would return donations made by Sterling, but did not specify the exact amount of his contributions.
Rhoden's recommendation for NBA commissioner Adam Silver was to respond quickly.
"I know you want to follow the truth where it leads, but Michael Jordan is angry, Lebron James is angry, Kobe Bryant is angry--you'd better be angry too."
The league will make an announcement on its investigation into the matter Tuesday.