Bryant Gumbel: Sterling Comments 'Tip of the Iceberg' of Racism in America

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, HBO Real Sports host and former Today show co-host Bryant Gumbel argued that alleged racist comments by NBA Clippers owner Donald Sterling were an indication of broader racism in America: "We historically, whether it's Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg and we ignore the mass underneath it. And really, that's what – that's where the problem lies." [Listen to the audio]

Also on the Sunday morning program, left-wing activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton quickly voiced his agreement with Gumbel: "I agree with Bryant, the NBA cannot be the endpoint. But it's got to be the beginning to say, 'We've got to deal with this.'"

Later on the show, moderator David Gregory seized on Gumbel's rant to spark a panel discussion about racism nationwide: "I want to play something he said about the persistence of race and racism in America and the larger conversation."

Teeing up Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden, Gregory wondered: "What is the mass underneath this latest flashpoint of race here with Donald Sterling?" Tanden proclaimed: "Look, I think what Bryant's talking about is the fact that, you know, even when you're talking about Affirmative Action, other issues, there's still a lot of racism in America."

Minutes later, Atlantic magazine columnist Jeffrey Goldberg lamented that the election of Barack Obama had not brought about more racial harmony:

I think one of the shocks that we have when Cliven Bundy or Sterling, these things come out, is that we all thought in 2008 that we had achieved something unique and new for the United States, a black president. There was – you have to remember back – there was joyous disbelief on the part of a lot of people, and some horrified disbelief on the part of some others.

And it was a real watershed moment. But the election of one man to one office twice doesn't actually change some underlying structural problems, attitudinal problems, cultural problems, and real economic structural problems. And I think each time one of these incidents arises, we sort of say, "But, wait, we're a country with a black president." And yet, this still happens. So it becomes a kind of a cognitive dissonance issue.

Fellow panelist and National Review editor Rich Lowry pointed out that a Sterling was "in no way characteristic of NBA owners." Goldberg declared:

But how do we know that for sure? I mean how do you know that these incidents where you see one guy, two guys, gets caught on private tape saying this, how do we know that they are so marginal – they are so marginal? These are guys who were caught. I mean, I'm not saying that it's widespread in the NBA, certainly. But I'm saying, you know, how do we know that these feelings aren't widespread in the corporate elite setting?

Here are excerpts of the April 27 Meet the Press coverage:

10:37 AM ET

(...)

BRYANT GUMBEL: I mean, I don't want us to get sidetracked. We historically, whether it's Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg and we ignore the mass underneath it. And really, that's what – that's where the problem lies.

AL SHARPTON: But the danger is that if we get past this Sterling moment, we'll never deal with the guy in Houston [Astros owner Jim Crane] or anywhere else. The nation, the President of the United States, overseas, has had to address this. That is why I agree with Bryant, the NBA cannot be the endpoint. But it's got to be the beginning to say, "We've got to deal with this." If we don't deal with this, then what are we sending the message to saying that this is acceptable?

(...)

11:05 AM ET

DAVID GREGORY: We're back with our political roundtable. Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine and columnist for Bloomberg View. Neera Tanden is president of The Center for American Progress and former policy director for Hillary Clinton. Rich Lowry is editor of The National Review. And new to the roundtable, happy to have Mallory Factor, professor of international politics and American government at The Citadel military college in South Carolina. He is also the editor of the best-selling book, Big Tent: The Story of the Conservative Revolution. A lot to get to there.

But a lot to get to just in our Sunday morning conversation here, Neera. Bryant Gumbel on earlier in the program. I want to play something he said about the persistence of race and racism in America and the larger conversation. Here's what he said a minute ago.

BRYANT GUMBEL: We historically, whether it's Donald Sterling, or Clive Bundy, or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg and we ignore the mass underneath it.

GREGORY: What is the mass underneath this latest flashpoint of race here with Donald Sterling?

NEERA TANDEN [CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS]: Look, I think what Bryant's talking about is the fact that, you know, even when you're talking about Affirmative Action, other issues, there's still a lot of racism in America. And we look at these instances and get repelled. But there are voices out there.

(...)

11:07 AM ET

GREGORY: Some of my reaction to this is it's such outlier behavior. I'm not saying that I'm surprised that there's racism in America. But it immediately strikes people as, "My gosh, that's just so beyond the pale."

(...)

11:10AM ET

JEFFREY GOLDBERG [THE ATLANTIC]: I think one of the shocks that we have when Cliven Bundy or Sterling, these things come out, is that we all thought in 2008 that we had achieved something unique and new for the United States, a black president. There was – you have to remember back – there was joyous disbelief on the part of a lot of people, and some horrified disbelief on the part of some others.

And it was a real watershed moment. But the election of one man to one office twice doesn't actually change some underlying structural problems, attitudinal problems, cultural problems, and real economic structural problems. And I think each time one of these incidents arises, we sort of say, "But, wait, we're a country with a black president." And yet, this still happens. So it becomes a kind of a cognitive dissonance issue.

GREGORY: Right. But so my question, Rich, I mean when you see a situation like Bundy, I mean Bundy presents a problem for, you know, those Republican politicians who embraced him because they like to throw their arms around somebody, you know, fighting against the federal government. Then, all of a sudden, he makes racist comments and they run for the exits, as anybody does. As opposed to comments like this in an industry in sports. Reverend Sharpton said they can bring people together. But you have a lot of white owners and a lot of African-American players. That has real, real high stakes.

RICH LOWRY [NATIONAL REVIEW]: Yeah. But he's a real outlier, you know? And he has, apparently, a history of this kind of thing, not just in his behavior, but in his statements. But he's in no way characteristic of NBA owners, which is why we're talking about this, this morning.

GOLDBERG: But how do we know that for sure? I mean how do you know that these incidents where you see one guy, two guys, gets caught on private tape saying this, how do we know that they are so marginal – they are so marginal? These are guys who were caught. I mean, I'm not saying that it's widespread in the NBA, certainly. But I'm saying, you know, how do we know that these feelings aren't widespread in the corporate elite setting?

(...)

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.