The NBA is known as a comparatively progressive professional sports league, but it still deals with uncomfortable racial attitudes on a daily basis. Apart from obvious racial topics, opinions on issues as league-altering as players banding together to form superteams and as simple as player wardrobes involve prejudices coded the fabric of American life. We typically try not to discuss such matters, but they’re usually there.
But at least NBA team presidents do their best not to say that any group of three or more black players on a team will form a gang. The same cannot be said of Gedvydas Vainauskas, president of the Lithuanian club team Lietuvos Rytas.
Vainauskas later issued a statement to clarify his comments, but it doesn’t exactly convince:
“While talking about the lessons learned during the last season, I had in my mind the situation with foreign players.
The principal position of BC Lietuvos Rytas is that a basketball player first of all is a professional.
Unfortunately, a few our foreigners did not meet expectations of the club.
During the play-offs they acted irresponsibly and that had a great negative impact on our team’s performance. In my interview, I expressed my disappointment about some of the foreign players selected for the season.
I apologize, if I was improperly understood.“
So, if it’s not clear, Vainauskas clarified his racism by saying that some players were unprofessional this season. It’s an understatement to call this statement inadequate. Explaining why Vainauskas was racist doesn’t change that he was racist.
Euroleague Basketball also issued a statement on the matter:
Following the comments made yesterday by Gedvydas Vainauskas, President of 7DAYS EuroCup club Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius to the media, Euroleague Basketball wishes to clarify the following: by no means do these words represent neither the sport of basketball, the European basketball family nor the Euroleague Basketball organisation at any level. On the contrary, European basketball has always been and will continue being an example of integration on and off the court, where cultures, races and religions have always come together under one passion, the sport of basketball. It is precisely these many cultures, languages, races and ways of understanding and living the sport which makes it a unique and enriching experience as well as a tool for bringing people together, people who have made history with some of the greatest performances in European basketball. The views expressed by Mr. Vainauskas are deeply offensive, harmful, and contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect.
Euroleague Basketball continues with its firm support to celebrating multicultural and multi-ethnical differences, using sport as a bridge between cultures. Euroleague Basketball strongly condemns any kind of discriminating comment or act of any kind against race, gender, sexuality or any other human condition.
A disciplinary proceeding has been opened by Euroleague Basketball against the Club, while it will be proposed at the upcoming 7DAYS EuroCup General Assembly that Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius ceases to represent EuroCup clubs at the Board of the competition.
At least this governing body appears to be taking action.
If there’s any justice, though, then discussion of this matter will continue after Euroleague brings any punishment down on Vainauskas. While these comments are especially racist and attention-grabbing, sports executives often couch similar sentiments in different language or via less structured quota systems. European soccer leagues have considerable difficulty dealing with racism, and the same is true of basketball. Vainauskas deserves special attention, but he’s not one bad apple. He’s a product of a culture.
The same is true of someone like ex-Clippers owner Donald Sterling, even if we often don’t like to admit it. While Sterling was an extreme case, the fact that the NBA allowed him prior to his 2014 expulsion to continue to own a team despite numerous lawsuits and controversies says plenty about the league’s priorities. The NBA is certainly more attuned to such matters under commissioner Adam Silver than it was under David Stern, but enough instances slip through the cracks to clarify that more work needs to be done.
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