A few people tweeted me during the show Monday and begged me to talk about something else. I’m sorry. I couldn’t. It’s my penance.
I will never forgive myself. It was, and is, my most miserable failure as a talk-show host, a man, and an American. Donald Sterling simply brought it back up and I can’t back down…because I already have, once.
In 1995, I was a fifth-year college senior at Ohio University. I was the sports director of my student-run radio station. I was also the play-by-play voice of Ohio women’s basketball and a part-time employee of the local radio station. As the voice of the Lady Bobcats, I carried around radio equipment so I could do remote broadcasts. I decided to use it for my student-run radio station to do something unprecedented.
Our student radio station was music heavy and sports was an afterthought. I was able to get an hour per week to do a sports show. The show had never been brought on the road. I wanted to prove to the station the power of our sports show. I also wanted to give a great opportunity to the freshmen and sophomores in our sports department to do a live broadcast the Monday following Selection Sunday of the NCAA Tournament. I had a ton of self-serving goals.
You might remember that tournament. Miami of Ohio, the arch rival of Ohio, upset UA in the first round. Manhattan became everyone’s darling by upsetting Oklahoma only to lose to ASU. The Devils made it to the Sweet 16 but got slaughtered by Kentucky. The Final Four was in Seattle and the talk of the town was Big Country and his OSU Cowboys.
I chose the restaurant/bar for our show based on frontage window for exposure. Most of the watering holes in Athens, Ohio, were great for drinking but not great restaurants. The one I picked was one of only two that was good for both–since the other restaurant was too small with no front windows. I called the place and set up an appointment with the owner for that Monday morning.
I explained with unbridled passion the greatness of our live broadcast. I promised I could bring 20 people for the show. All he had to do was give up his credit card availability for one hour. I needed his phone line in order to do the broadcast. He decided that would be fine. I was pumped that my plan was coming together.
The owner then asked to see the bracket. We started talking college basketball. As he checked out some of the games he said he was rooting for Xavier to beat Georgetown. I told him I couldn’t do that because I grew up a University of Dayton fan. I asked him if he went to Xavier or if he’s from Cincinnati. He said, “No, I have no connection to X. I just hate Georgetown. They never have any white guys. They just fill the team with Negros who always get into trouble.”
I said nothing. I did nothing. I succeeded at nothing.
In my experience, there’s always a very odd silence when one non-racist white man finds out he’s in a conversation with a racist white man. I don’t know how it is for other racists in different races. I just looked at him in anger, sadness and shock. The stare of a racist always presents great confusion when they see we have different opinions. It’s as if they don’t understand how I’m not in the club. It’s as if I’m the strange one since I didn’t go to the meeting on how I’m supposed to feel about Blacks in America.
I got out of the conversation quickly by telling him he could keep the bracket for his restaurant. I said I’d see him tonight and headed out the door. As I was leaving, I wanted to turn around to let him know that I’ve changed my mind and we wouldn’t be doing the show there. I didn’t. I walked down the street almost yelling at myself to go back in there and stand up for what I believe in but I came to the realization I stood for nothing.
The whole day I felt robbed. I had so much excitement for the potential to do the broadcast yet no excitement when the broadcast was going to be a reality. I had the chance to stand up to racism or enhance my standing within a group of 20-something year-old fellow college kids. I chose my career. I chose to look cool in front of young radio hopefuls instead of looking cool in front of my conscience. I chose poorly.
If you didn’t enjoy Monday’s show, I’m sorry. I hope you come back and try us again sometime. I want to entertain you in the morning. I want you to actually come into work laughing and feeling good about the start of your day. There’s nothing entertaining about Donald Sterling and I couldn’t feel good at the end of my day if I had let it go.
Truth is, I’m probably a better person for my failure. It drives me to never stand down again. When a Donald Sterling speaks, I want to talk about it. I want to expose him. I want to show anyone who is white that the civil rights struggle isn’t over. I want to show anyone who is black that very few whites are Donald Sterling. The only way this can be done is by never letting up. I never let up Monday because I did let up once.