NAACP L.A. chapter head resigns over Donald Sterling scandal
LOS ANGELES (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.
Meanwhile on Friday, Sterling's girlfriend said through her attorney she was merely a platonic friend, with no sexual relationship with the NBA team owner, the lawyer said.
Sterling is accused of making racist comments against African-Americans in an audio recording that surfaced last weekend that purportedly depict an argument between Sterling and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.
On Friday, Sterling was quoted on DuJour.com as saying "I wish I had just paid her off" in reference to Stiviano. The site, which specified that Sterling was referring to Stiviano in a discussion with one of its writers, didn't state when the remark was made.
Sterling wasn't the only one reeling in the controversy.
The uproar also struck one of the nation's leading civil rights groups, the NAACP, whose Los Angeles chapter rescinded Monday its offer to give Sterling a lifetime achievement honor once Sterling's racist remarks came to light.
But that reversal was apparently too late. The outcry was too much for the group.
"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 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.
'Girlfriend' says she was just a pal
On Friday, Stiviano's lawyer said Stiviano wasn't Sterling's girlfriend.
Rather, Stiviano was a platonic friend, said attorney Mac E. Nehoray.
"My client was not Donald Sterling's mistress or girlfriend. We have proof that there was no sexual relationship," Nehoray said. "They were more like friends. Platonic."
When asked why gave Sterling her such lavish gifts as expensive cars, the attorney said: "Because he cares about her."
Nehoray also stated that Stiviano didn't distribute the recorded conservation.
"She did not leak the recordings," the attorney said. "We are narrowing down who might have leaked the tapes, but we do not want to divulge at this point."
Stiviano doesn't have a book deal connected to the Sterling controversy, Nehoray said.
"There is no book deal. She's been writing a book, but not about Sterling. It's about her life," Nehoray said.
Stiviano used to work in a crime victims unit in a district attorney's office, Nehoray added.
"When the truth comes out, whoever has been calling her 'gold digger' and 'con artist' will have to retract that -- absolutely false," Nehoray said.
In March, Sterling's wife sued Stiviano, accusing her having an affair with the billionaire team owner.
In the lawsuit, Rochelle Sterling accuses Stiviano of targeting extremely wealthy older men. The suit claims that Donald Sterling used the couple's money to buy Stiviano a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover.
Stiviano also took over a $1.8 million duplex through fraud and received about $250,000 in cash from Sterling, the court document claims.
Stiviano fought back, saying in another court document that there was nothing wrong with Donald Sterling giving her gifts. She also said she never took advantage of the Clippers owner, who made much of his fortune in real estate.
'Giving away integrity'
The NAACP and Sterling weren't strangers, and the group had honored Donald Sterling before, an analyst said.
"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 and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report
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