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Donald Sterling scandal conjures up memories of Marge Schott

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Updated: June 1, 2014 6:40AM



CINCINNATI — The coincidence was not lost on some of the Cubs watching NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on TV Tuesday. They were witnessing the Donald Sterling fiasco play out from the scene of baseball’s version of the same crime.

“Being that we’re here in Cincinnati, there’s some correlation with the whole Marge Schott thing,” said Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies, who was a player during much of Schott’s racially charged controversies as Reds owner in the 1990s.

“It’s kind of crazy that so many years later, we’re kind of revisiting similar issues.”

In a decision that promises to set the bar on ramifications for anyone foolish enough in any sport to be publicly exposed for such hateful and racist beliefs as Sterling, the longtime Clippers owner was hit with far greater penalties than Schott — banned for life and the likelihood other owners will vote to force him from the NBA.

In 1996, Schott agreed to give up control of the Reds for two years after the latest in a series of offensive, racist comments over the years that included using the “N” word in reference to some African-American players on her team, sympathetic views about Adolf Hitler and offensive remarks about women and Asian-Americans.

If that set the precedent nearly two decades ago, Tuesday’s announcement by Silver raised stakes significantly, say Cubs players, including players union representative Carlos Villanueva.

“I think our relationship now [with MLB and owners] is even stronger when it comes to these issues,” said Villanueva, who’s part of the union’s executive committee. “I think our sport is equipped to handle something like that.”

Just as severely, he said.

“At least I’m glad it happened in that way,” Villanueva said. “You never want to see it happen, but the way it was resolved I think was commendable. We were satisfied with what we saw.”

Not that anyone seemed surprised that so long after Schott, major-league sports — which still has little minority or women representation in their power structures — continue to face attitudes like Sterling’s.

“It happens,” said veteran pitcher Edwin Jackson, who has played for eight different big-league teams. “You can’t tell people what to think and not think. What’s right and not right is in the eye of the beholder.

“But once you take that belief and bring it out publicly, you have to deal with the consequences.”

Jackson said he believes the unified approach that owners, coaches and players took within the NBA in meting out a swift and severe penalty sets the new precedent across sports for dealing with such ignorance by those in positions of power.

“You have to [maintain] the integrity of the sport,” he said. “You can’t have people looking down on the sport and looking down on the league as a joke.”

Said Villanueva: “It involves all of us, because we have our brothers in the NBA and NFL. We’re all professional athletes, and we’re all affected by it.”

Which is why Cubs players watched with such interest, he said.’

“It’s not that it came out but the fact that you have people that still in this day and age feel and think that way,” he said. “How can you really feel that way? And the audio, it’s just disturbing. It’s like, ‘Wow.’ And he’s talking not only about African-Americans, but he’s talking about minorities total. And obviously as a Latin player, I’m deeply offended.”

Villanueva said he can’t imagine how he’d react if he played for an owner who said the things Sterling did. But he thinks he knows how his sport would.

“We would definitely be equal to [the NBA] or try to,” he said. “We would definitely make sure that that person is not a part of our league.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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