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The former president of the NAACP’s L.A. chapter is defending Donald Sterling as the Clippers owner remains embroiled in a scandal over recorded racist remarks.
Sterling last week gave a bizarre, unapologetic interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in which he also criticized Magic Johnson. But former NAACP head Leon Jenkins, who called Sterling after the interview aired, told the Associated Press that the owner was “really distraught,” a “wreck” and almost crying.
Jenkins resigned as chapter president on May 1 following outrage over the organization’s later-reversed decision to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award. Jenkins said he stepped down so the NAACP would not be hurt by the Sterling controversy.
Sterling has since been banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million. The team owners are moving forward with a vote on whether Sterling should continue to own the franchise.
Jenkins, who has known Sterling for 10 years, thinks it was bad timing that Sterling’s remarks surfaced when they did, noting that he was planning to honor Sterling because of the owner’s plans to create a multimillion-dollar endowment at Los Angeles Southwest College, where the student population is mostly African American.
“I thought if he was going to give a lifetime endowment, he should get a lifetime award,” Jenkins told the AP. “If this had happened a month later, Southwest would have had an endowment, and I would have been a hero…. Talk about bad luck. It couldn’t have been any worse.”
As for Sterling’s comments, Jenkins said they were “very, very ugly statements.” But he was also reluctant to condemn Sterling, adding, “I’m not really sure we have all the facts.”
Jenkins also said: “You can never under any circumstances defend what he said. But there are some issues there like his right to privacy — are these private thoughts in a private home.”
“A true racist deserves everything he gets,” Jenkins said, but he added that he wasn’t sure if Sterling is a “true racist.”
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