LOS ANGELES — The former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP said Monday that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was a ”wreck” and almost crying after a television interview in which Sterling derided Magic Johnson as a role model.
Leon Jenkins told The Associated Press that he called Sterling after last week’s interview aired and said Sterling’s comments about Johnson took away from the apology he was making for earlier racist comments. Sterling was ”really distraught” and hoped the public would forgive him, Jenkins said.
”I said, ‘Once you got off focus and started talking about Magic Johnson, whatever reconsideration some people would have, you kind of lost it,”’ Jenkins recalled.
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Jenkins resigned as chapter president May 1 following outrage over a decision he later reversed to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award. It would have been Sterling’s second award — the chapter also honored him in 2009. The same year Sterling agreed to pay $2.7 million to settle a U.S. Justice Department suit alleging that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks.
Jenkins said he stepped down from his post to ensure the local NAACP would not be harmed by the swirling controversy. He’s known Sterling for 10 years and has been active in the local NAACP chapter for 23 years. He’d planned to honor Sterling because of the billionaire’s plans to create a multimillion-dollar endowment at Los Angeles Southwest College, which has a majority African-American student population.
”I thought if he was going to give a lifetime endowment, he should get a lifetime award,” Jenkins said. ”If this had happened a month later, Southwest would have had an endowment, and I would have been a hero … Talk about bad luck. It couldn’t have been any worse.”
Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million. The league charged Sterling on Monday with damaging the league and its teams with racist comments he made to a friend in a recorded phone conversation that became public. Team owners are moving forward with a vote on whether to terminate his ownership of the Clippers. Sterling has until May 27 to respond.
A message on the office voicemail of Sterling’s lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, said he would have no comment now.
”Here’s the thing, if you look at the totality of the sports franchises in the Southern California area, he gave away more tickets to the minority community so little kids would come to the games than any other franchise I know. I took that as a plus,” Jenkins said. ”He also donated a lot more money to inner city programs.”
Jenkins said Sterling’s comments were ”very, very ugly statements” but also said ”I’m not really sure we have all the facts.”
”You can never under any circumstances defend what he said,” Jenkins said. ”But there are some issues there like his right to privacy, are these private thoughts in a private home.”
He urged people to also not forget about issues like crime and unemployment that impact the African-American community.
”I think a true racist deserves everything he gets,” Jenkins said, but he wouldn’t say if he considered Sterling a ”true racist.” He said: ”I don’t know, I don’t know. You have to look at the body of work.”
And he added, ”Where’s the forgiveness here?” before pausing — ”but then again, you’ve got to show redemption first.”