Here’s some news you didn’t know: Donald Sterling is a bigot. For more than 20 years, this indisputable fact has been talked about, documented, and even testified under oath. When the audio recording of his offensive comments about black people at Clippers basketball games came out late last month, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. It was ugly, unacceptable, and damning, but it wasn’t new behavior.
With a race-relations record as bad as his, why are major institutions only now acting shocked and executing a full court press to reject any connection with him? Last week, UCLA announced it was rejecting Sterling’s pledged $3 million for general kidney research to its Division of Nephrology. The school is also returning the $425,000 installment he’s already given. The funding was intended to be used for the development of drugs to treat patients with kidney disorders, but UCLA explained its decision to reject the funding claiming Sterling’s “divisive and hurtful comments demonstrate that he does not share UCLA’s core values.”
What isn’t clear is how the core values of UCLA include cutting funding of research to cure diseases that disproportionately affect Black, Asian, and Hispanic peoples—the very ethnic groups Sterling has targeted with his bigotry over the decades. According to the National Institute of Health “While African Americans make up about 13 percent of the population, they account for 32 percent of the people with kidney failure in the United States.”
The grand irony here is that UCLA could have used a racist’s money to actively search for a cure to a disease that most commonly afflicts minorities, but instead they have chosen to reject the funding in a PR stunt. Sterling’s comments might not reflect “UCLA’s core values” but giving money for medical research is well within the behavior that the university finds acceptable, and saving lives should definitely fall within the school’s “core values.”
UCLA is clearly more concerned with its image than with kidney research. Rejecting Sterling’s money is far more despicable than any ignorant comment the man has ever made. Would anyone have found fault with an institution taking Hitler’s money to research a cure for Tay Sachs? I think it far more likely the world would have reveled in the irony. Kidney research needs funding, and Sterling has the money. But public scorn for Sterling is at an all time high, and the university can’t risk some of that negative attention being turned on them. It’s a real shame, considering that Sterling’s comments will fade into the background while the number of people suffering from kidney disease will remain a real threat for too many families.
Great decision, UCLA, you’ve really shown us all how you feel about racism. Unfortunately, we now also know how seriously you take curing chronic illness.