April 28, 2014— -- The NAACP said today they are still willing to work with Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling despite yanking an offer of a lifetime achievement award over an audio tape containing racist comments that Sterling allegedly made.
At a news conference today, NAACP Los Angeles president Leon Jenkins said that an audio recording that surfaced this weekend on TMZ, which purportedly had Sterling's voice recorded making racist comments, was "devastating."
But the organization would be open to talking to Sterling, with whom they've worked for nearly 20 years.
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"God teaches us to forgive, and the way I look at it, after a sustained period of proof to the African American community that those words don't reflect his heart, I think there's room for forgiveness. I wouldn't be a Christian if I said there wasn't," Jenkins said.
"We are negotiating with him about giving more moneys to African American students at UCLA, and so we are in preliminary discussions," Jenkins said. He also noted, however, they had not spoken since the scandal broke.
The news conference was held to discuss the organization's decision to cancel plans to honor to Sterling with a lifetime achievement in the wake of the tape, which allegedly contained an argument between Sterling, 80, and his girlfriend, Vanessa Stiviano, 31, in which the male voice on the recording makes many racist comments.
The male voice is heard telling Stiviano not to post pictures of herself with black people to Instagram or bring black people to Los Angeles Clippers games, including Magic Johnson. Stiviano's lawyers claim the recording is authentic and contains the voice of Sterling.
LA Clippers President Andy Roeser said in a statement Saturday the team did not know if the tape is legitimate or has been altered. Roeser said that Donald Sterling told him that Stiviano had previously said she would "get even" for the lawsuit brought by Rochelle Sterling.
The team released a statement saying, “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life."
The recording sent shock waves through the NBA. The Clippers players protested Sterling by wearing their jerseys inside out at a playoff game Sunday, and the league is investigating what actions it may take against Sterling if the voice on the tape is verified to be his.
The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP posted on its website over the weekend that it would not give Sterling the Lifetime Achievement award after all.
Jenkins said that the NAACP had been working closely with Sterling on contributions to the black community in southern California, including creating an endowment at a predominantly black college in the LA area and a scholarship program for black students at UCLA.
"The mission of the NAACP is to eradicate discrimination and racial hatred in all its forms, and each year our executive board votes on who we decide that we are going to honor," Jenkins said. "Mr. Sterling has given out a tremendous amount of scholarships, he has invited numerous African American kids to summer camps, and his donations are bigger than other sports franchises."
"That is something that shows that there is a consciousness of the plight of African Americans in this country," Jenkins said.
Jenkins noted that Sterling had previously been awarded a humanitarian honor from the group and that it would not revoke that.
In 2009, ESPN Magazine went with Sterling to the awards ceremony for that honor, which the magazine described as Lifetime Achievement Award, though Jenkins denied that term today. The magazine profiled Sterling amid legal allegations by the Justice Department that he discriminated against minorities in housing units he rented. Sterling ultimately settled with the government.
Jenkins was quoted in the 2009 article saying that Sterling had donated $10,000 to $15,000 in that year alone to the NAACP.
Sterling is quoted in the story saying about the reporter, "Do you know why they're here? They want to know why the NAACP would give an award to someone with my track record."
Jenkins said at the press conference today that the NAACP has worked with Sterling for 15 to 20 years and that Jenkins' predecessor nominated Sterling for the 2009 award.