Clippers owner got NAACP’s highest honor before his racist rant
(CNN) — The Donald Sterling scandal has claimed collateral damage: the president of the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter.
Leon Jenkins resigned Thursday, after the civil rights group came under fire for its plans to present a lifetime achievement award to the Los Angeles Clippers owner.
The NAACP chapter rescinded its offer Monday after Sterling’s racist remarks came to light.
But the damage was done. The backlash the group faced was brutal.
“Please be advised that the legacy, history and reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the presidency,” Jenkins said, in announcing his resignation.
He said he was stepping down to separate the organization from the “negative exposure I have caused.”
Group’s highest honor
The lifetime achievement award is the NAACP’s highest honor.
The L.A. chapter presented Sterling with the award in 2009, and was planning to do so again this month. Sterling had donated a substantial amount of money to the chapter in the last few years. Some reports put it around $45,000.
Earlier this week, the NBA’s commissioner came down hard on Sterling, ordering him out of his team’s business and pushing to force him to sell over the racist remarks that caused a firestorm since becoming public days ago.
The inflammatory sentiments came packaged in a 10-minute recording that TMZ said occurred during an April 9 conversation between Sterling and girlfriend V. Stiviano.
On the recording, a man and woman argue about photos posted to Instagram in which she appears with African-Americans. The man says he doesn’t want the woman bringing any black people to games with her.
The sports website Deadspin posted five additional minutes of what it said was part of the same audio recording.
‘Giving away integrity’
“The first time Sterling was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the group was in the midst of a lawsuit for housing discrimination based upon race,” said LZ Granderson, a CNN contributor and lecturer at Northwestern University.
“To decide to honor him with the award a second time, after he had paid millions to settle multiple discrimination suits … is not selling out. Selling out makes financial sense. No, considering what $45,000 means to a man of Sterling’s wealth, honoring him with awards is just giving integrity away.”
The billionaire real estate mogul has found himself in hot water in the past, denying in court accusations of discrimination tied to the NBA team and to property he owns.
A ‘social price’ to pay
Soon after the scandal broke, Jenkins didn’t seem inclined to cut ties with Sterling.
“At some point when there has been proof, I think that would be a legitimate time for the NAACP to sit down with Sterling and try to work out how and why he did what he did and what is he going to do in the future,” he said.
“God teaches us to forgive. And the way I look at it, after a sustained period of just proof to the African-American community that those words don’t really reflect his heart, I think there’s room for forgiveness.”
By Monday, Jenkins had changed course.
“The revelation that Mr. Sterling may have made comments in a phone conversation that were reminiscent of an ugly time period in American history that contained elements of segregation and racial discrimination demands that the Los Angles NAACP intention to honor Mr. Sterling for his lifetime body of work must be withdrawn, and his donation to the Los Angeles NAACP returned,” the group said Monday when it withdrew its invitation.
“There is a personal, economic and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn the clock back on race relations.”
CNN’s Dave Alsup contributed to this report