Examining Press Coverage of Donald Sterling

As a reporter for The Los Angeles Times in the mid-2000s, I recalled reading in the paper’s sports pages about Donald Sterling’s miserable on-court product.  But the longtime Los Angeles Clipper owners’ off-court legal battles? Those seemed to attract less press attention.

In the wake of this spring’s Sterling saga, I wrote a piece for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Media about press coverage of Sterling. For the article, I interviewed the journalists who wrote the definitive profiles of and investigations into Sterling.

From the article:

A review of news archives shows that coverage of Sterling’s off-court behavior was intermittent. Lawsuit filings and settlements prompted a flurry of short articles, columns and editorials in the Los Angeles press – from A1 to the sports page, where Sterling had long been a favorite target of Times columnists.

Some national news outlets seized the opportunity to bring attention to Sterling’s sordid past and call for increased coverage. In 2006, following news of the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit, ESPN’s Jones wrote a column (“Sterling’s Racism Should be News”) detailing Sterling’s legal troubles and controversial comments. National Public Radio aired an interview with USC professor Todd Boyd, an expert on race, media and sports, discussing Sterling’s “Inconsistent Approach on Race”.

In 2009, the year of the Sterling-DOJ settlement and the Baylor lawsuit, ESPN’s Keating wrote one of the definitive investigative pieces on Sterling based on interviews, depositions and court documents (“Uncontested: The Life of Donald Sterling”). Deadspin picked up on the story and dogged Sterling throughout the year, referring to him as “The Most Evil Man in Sports”. That same year, ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Yahoo Sports’ Wetzel admonished then-NBA Commissioner David Stern for staying silent on Sterling.

And:

Coverage of Sterling’s transgressions was typically short lived. Without new allegations – often coming years apart – or settlement payouts as news pegs, the focus largely returned to his failure as Clippers owner rather than his comments and actions off the court. Few investigative reports put Sterling under the spotlight.

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