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Snyder Under Pressure to Change Redskins Name; Donald Sterling Turns Over Control Team to Wife, Shelly; Shelly Sterling Negotiating with the NBA; Democrats in High-Profile Races Calling for V.A.'s Shinseki to Resign.

Aired May 23, 2014 - 11:30   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Well good luck selling idea to Roger Goodell. Jim Corbett, of USA Today, asked him a pointblank question earlier this year about that very issue.


JIM CORBETT, USA TODAY: Would you feel comfortable calling an American Indian a Redskin to his or her face?

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Jim, I have been spending the last year talking to many of the leaders in the Native American communities. We are listening. We are trying to make sure we understand the issues.

Let me remind you this is the name of a football team, a football team that's had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that has honored Native Americans.


PEREIRA: Snyder has been steadfast the nickname is tradition, and that's important to fans.

Marc Lamont Hill and sports attorney, Domenic Romano, you don't get the weekend off yet. We bring you back to force you to work more.

We understand the issue. The team has had the team for 80 years. I would argue, Domenic, that goodness knows we've evolved in the 80 years as a society, have we not?

DOMENIC ROMANO, SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT ATTORNEY: You would think so. The comments sound tone deaf. The time has come for a change. When members of Congress are ahead of you in thinking, there may be something wrong there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Marc, Daniel Snyder earlier set up a foundation to raise awareness for Native Americans. Is that enough for the owner of the Redskins to do? Is that some kind of token, do you think?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it speaks to his intentions. I don't think that he's trying to offend the Native American community. I don't think that he's trying to upset anyone. He's being stubborn on this point. Opening the foundation and raising money and awareness is a good thing. It doesn't let you off the hook for the Redskins name. I'll say this is a contentious issue. This isn't cut and dry. There are people in Native American community even who have the belief that this is OK and feel honored by it. My point is if you have a minority of people, I don't care if it's 5 percent or 10 percent, but it's probably larger than that in this case, who are upset by the name and hurt by the name and offended by the name, let's change it.

And to Michaela's point, yeah, we've had the name for 80 years but I would like to think we progressed over the last 80 years. And kudos for Harry Reid in pushing them on this and using Donald Sterling moment to get the conversation going again.

PEREIRA: But is it going to take congressional weight to force this change? Don't you think that they're going to hear from enough people that say it's time for us to move past this and get a different name? It doesn't have to change the support of the team or the essence of the team.

LAMONT HILL: People have remarkable ability --


ROMANO: -- so what. 80 years.

PEREIRA: Go ahead, Domenic. Sorry, that was my fault.

ROMANO: The point is this. The time is here. There is momentum. You have so many Senators now onboard. There is precedence for this. Look at the Washington NBA team. The Bullets changed their name in '97. It's not a minority. It's the majority of Native American groups opposed. If you look at the "American Webster's Dictionary," it's usually an offensive name.


ROMANO: It's time for a change on this issue.

BERMAN: It's interesting for people to suggest it's nice for the Senate to make a statement like that, but the Senate might have more important things to do than worry about the name of a football team. It's also interesting, by the way, it was all Democrats that signed the letter because Republicans say that no one asked them. John McCain said if they had asked him to sign it, he might have signed it because he's been vocal on this issue.

Marc, I don't want to ask for Daniel Snyder here. But why do you think he is being so stubborn?

LAMONT HILL: I think people have remarkable ability to convince themselves that the things they do don't hurt people even when people tell them they do. Many times people say I'm not sexist because I did this or racist because I did that. It's not about your intentions are but how your intentions are felt by other people. I don't think he's taken that distinction in enough care. Also, I think it's good old- fashioned stubbornness. To some extent he says no one will tell me what to do with my team. It's rich guy ego.

BERMAN: If someone could tell them what to do with the team, they might win some games one of these days.


PEREIRA: I knew that dig would come.

I will tell you -- and big thanks to Domenic and Marc -- now you can have your weekend gentlemen. Thank you for sticking around @THISHOUR.

You know I'm adopted. All four of my sisters are Native Americans, in Canada, a part of the first nation. And if anyone called my sister by that name, it would have upset me greatly and we may have words. So the idea that a team is named that, I can't reconcile with both of those things. It's a very sensitive word for me.

BERMAN: People feel what they feel.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

Up ahead, the drum beats getting louder. Democrats in high-profile races are calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign over the V.A. hospital scandal. So is this the new campaign pitch? We'll talk about it ahead.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PEREIRA: Moments ago, we were talking about the NBA. Breaking news. Shelly Sterling, wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, apparently is negotiating with the NBA, according to a source familiar with this situation.

We want to bring in our Brian Todd who has been watching this situation unfold.

What can you tell us, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michaela and John, we do have confirmation from a source familiar with the situation who I spoke to a short time ago that there is an agreement between Donald and Shelly Sterling for Shelly Sterling to negotiate the voluntary sale of the L.A. Clippers. The source says there have been discussions between Shelly Sterling and the NBA. That's about all this source could tell us at the time. But we do have it now that there has been an agreement between Donald and Shelly Sterling for Shelly Sterling to negotiate the voluntary sale of the L.A. Clippers. As far as we know, no new owners have been finalized. No new owners have been found. This would be an important step in the ongoing process of how to dispose of the L.A. Clippers when the time comes to finalize this whole situation after Donald Sterling racist comments on that audiotape.

BERMAN: It could be the beginning, Brian, of trying to get out of the situation somewhat gracefully.

I want to bring in Stephanie Elam in L.A. covering the Sterling fiasco for weeks.

Stephanie, you have been working sources with both sides of the Sterling family. Shelly Sterling has said for some time that she doesn't want to sell the team. She said nothing racist, she says. She wants to be in charge. This would be a change for her.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And even still from what we have seen of some of this reporting, it still would look like she's still trying to negotiate the sale but on her own terms. We've seen reporting from "L.A. Times," one place there.

What is interesting here though is that throughout the beginning we heard Adam Silver say from the NBA this was not about Shelly and about Donald and that he was the controlling owner, not Shelly even though it was owned by the family's trust. So this would change things on how they would proceed. It seems to imply here that there is room for negotiation and just that she wants it done on her terms but the sale is very much in play because they know that this issue is not going to go away.

PEREIRA: Domenic Romano, joins us once again, sports attorney.

We heard from a lot of voices there are people who have said that nobody with the last name Sterling should be involved with the Clippers going forward and many are going to wonder is this just a clever work around of the situation so that Donald Sterling can still control the strings of the organization.

ROMANO: I think this is an expedited resolution. The story does not surprise me at all. Silver has a history for being someone who favors settlements, ever since his days as a law clerk. I think you're seeing it. His influence is apparent. They want this resolved quickly. If that means control is transferred to Shelly Sterling and she's negotiating a sale on behalf of the family on their terms but on expedited basis, that's good for the Sterlings and good for the NBA.

BERMAN: Good for the NBA because, among other things -- which I don't know for sure -- but it's possible it might mean owners don't have to take a vote to expel the Sterlings, which would expose them in some ways and make them uncomfortable. Could that be part of the situation here? We'll discuss that right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Breaking news just into CNN is word that Donald Sterling, the owner of Los Angeles Clippers, has turned over control of the team to his wife, Shelly. And Shelly Sterling is beginning to negotiate with the NBA to set the terms to sell this team.

I want to bring in Brian Todd, who broke this story for us; Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles, who has been covering the whole mess for weeks now; and also our sports attorney, Domenic Romano, in Toronto.

Brian, I want to start with you. I was wondering just before the break what the NBA's stake is in this now. By reaching an agreement now, does this put the NBA in a position that they will not have to vote? Owners will not have to vote to expel the Sterlings from the league?

TODD: It could. We don't know of any deal reached by the NBA and Mrs. Sterling only that there are negotiations going on. The deal we heard about is between Donald and Shelly Sterling to negotiate voluntary sale of the Clippers. You're right. The league may very well not want this to come to a vote. Donald Sterling hired a prominent antitrust attorney to handle his affairs in this case. That may mean he was ready for a fight in a court of law. If that happened and this got to a vote and then got to some kind of legal maneuvering in court, then Donald Sterling may have been able to bring out some things about other owners that they didn't want to get out. This could be a move at least preemptively by all sides to avoid this getting to that point.

PEREIRA: Just another bit of this mess that came to mind just now, and I'll bring you in, Stephanie Elam, is the fact that we've been talking about referring to Shelly Sterling as the estranged wife. There's been reporting in "L.A. Times" that they're not so estranged. Depending on who you ask, you'll get a different answer. This makes it more messy.

ELAM: It does. When I met and interviewed her lawyer earlier on, he said they are estranged and they've been living apart for a year and planning to file for divorce. When I talk to people when I was at staple center and I would talk to people who had been around the Sterlings, they imply they are not as estranged as this new statement has been given. They stuck by the story that she's been estranged. She filed that lawsuit against V. Stiviano. Showing that, look, they had a rift growing between them but they have all of these business dealings together. In some ways, they couldn't be separated. They were seen together on his 80th birthday. They said they have family together. That's why they were together. Again, a lot of people saying that wasn't that rare for them to do. And now if this is true -- I think this is true that everyone wants to see this go away. Players want it to go away. I'm sure the owners want to see this go away. Keep in mind we have the draft at the end of June, too. All of these things they would like to have wrapped up before then. If they can find an amicable way to do that, they'll go after it. They still own the team together in this family trust. They would have to change all of that as well.

BERMAN: Let's bring in our sports attorney, Domenic Romano.

Stephanie said, Domenic, that the league wants this to go away, the owners want this to go away, the players want this to go away. What do the Sterlings want, do you think? And as we say they're beginning to negotiate with the NBA, they're negotiating for what here?

ROMANO: Probably the maximum prize. If you're the Sterlings, you have to step back and ask yourself, look, what is this team going to be worth if we're the owners? Sponsors are heading for the exits. People have said they're going to boycott, fans are going to boycott. The players possibly could walk out. Certain players won't renew their contracts. What's the team worth if they stay on as owners? Probably a lot less than if they sell it now. I think they probably come to that realization and they're acting. From the NBA's perspective, the sooner, the better. They need to put this matter behind them.

PEREIRA: Brian Todd, I have read some reporting that Shelly Sterling had said she was going to sue the NBA if she was forced -- if they were forced to sell the team, that she wanted to do it on her own terms. It's interesting because, in the end, it makes you wonder what, as Domenic is saying, how much further ahead they'll get by jumping the gun, if you will.

TODD: That does make you wonder. It makes you wonder where they're going to go from here and when this will be finalized. Not too long ago, Shelly Sterling told Barbara Walters she would fight for the team, and half the team was hers and she would fight for it. This is in a trust. The trust is divided equally between the two Sterlings. That has to be resolved. A lot is in the works.

Also, this notion of whether they are estranged. And that both them have voiced their intention to divorce. So that is also kind of a factor that plays into all this.

But again, there seems to be maybe a change of heart from Shelly Sterling when a couple weeks ago she told Barbara Walters, this is half my team, and I'm going to fight for it, to now, when we're been told she's at least ceded some control or at least there's some agreement, for her to negotiate the sale, a change of heart has occurred a some point along the way, probably in the last week or so.

BERMAN: You know what's going to happen to the Sterlings, they're going to make a lot of money on this deal, no matter what.

Brian Todd, Stephanie Elam, Domenic Romano, great to have you here, really appreciate it.

CNN going to stay on the breaking news all day.

PEREIRA: Can't wait to the headlines in the "L.A. Times," other papers tomorrow.

Up next, Democrats in high-profile races are calling for the Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign over the V.A. hospital scandal. We'll have details and discussion ahead.


BERMAN: So Eric Shinseki said he will not step down over the V.A. hospital scandal. But a lot of Democrats are calling for his resignation.

PEREIRA: Alison Lundergren Grimes, Charlie Crist, Michelle Nunn, all running for office this year, they're adding their voices to the phrase, saying the Veterans Affairs secretary must go.

I want to bring in our CNN political commentator duo, Republican consultant, Margaret Hoover; CNN political analyst, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast," Mr. John Avlon.

Good to have you both here.


I'll start with you, John.

Are Democrats trying to distance themselves here?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Democrats south of the Mason-Dixon Line sure are. I mean, no, it's not an accident these folks, Alison Grimes, running in Kentucky, against McConnell, Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, running in Florida, and Michelle Nunn, trying to pull off a win in that state. Frankly, it's a question of accountability. If you're protecting the president at this stage of the V.A. scandal, it looks like you're a lock step Democrat.

BERMAN: Margaret, I'm not going to question these candidates' commitment to the V.A. but John hints at something here, which is these candidates may actually be looking for subjects to distance themselves from the president on. I'm wondering if there will be more Democrats who sees this as an opportunity to create some space from the president, especially right now when the president is not polling well --


MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you can look at Senator Pryor in Arkansas and these other key swing states up in November. I think it's very, very likely. It didn't need to be this way, John. I think the president, by waiting a month to speak directly to the issue, and by letting the secretary sort of be out there, but really it fell on deaf ears, his very tepid testimony. By not tackling the situation much closer to when it happened, it's become this political football. Everyone is going to now have to try to demonstrate that they support the V.A., they support veterans and they don't support the president who really hasn't been strong enough on this until it was maybe too late.

PEREIRA: It's interesting to watch what is happening on the political front. We also want to bring up this poll, a "CBS News" poll. Let's show. It's interesting, a third of Americans surveyed think that Eric Shinseki is the one to blame for the V.A. problems.

Here's the question: Is it the buck stops here with him and his head needs to roll or is he being made a fall guy here, Margaret?

HOOVER: This is like rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. This is a system that has been broken for decades. I don't know why we're suddenly just outraged about it.

(CROSSTALK) HOOVER: There's plenty to be outraged for a very long time. In 2009, President Obama signed legislation that was going to increase accountability, increase quality care that veterans were going to be getting, and look what's happened. So I'm not sure that actually firing the secretary is going to fix the problem.

AVLON: Look, the problem is the administration knew that there were problems with delays that actually were leading to deaths. The administration says, look, we've increased funding 58 percent. It's not that we're ignoring the issue of how to modernize the V.A. The question is how quickly have they confronted this? For the time being, Shinseki should keep his job. If it does look like the ball was dropped and there was evidence and there was nothing done, at some point that accountability has to come in.

BERMAN: As we heard John Boehner yesterday talk, he said he still is not calling for the secretary's resignation, but he's getting closer. I think that's where a lot of people in Washington are right now.

AVLON: He's a very respected guy, Shinseki, too, over his career in the military.

BERMAN: That goes without saying. He had a very, very long honorable career at many level, in the military.

John Avlon, Margaret Hoover, great to have you here.


BERMAN: Have got an interesting story for you here. Talk about luck. An American professor hiking in the Himalayas survived after plummeting 70 feet into an ice crevasse.


JOHN ALL, PROFESSOR & MOUNTAIN CLIMBER: Thankfully, I didn't keep falling that way. I got trapped here instead, this ledge. My arm, I can't use. I'm going to have to somehow climb out that way.


PEREIRA: That fall left him a bloodied broken mess, bloodied face, broken arm. He still managed to crawl out. Even had some broken ribs. He was able to video the entire ordeal. Apparently, it took him something like four or five hours to get out. And it was another 16 hours before a rescue helicopter came to get him. He is fine. He'll have some bruises and breaks.

BERMAN: The whole thing in focus. That's a guy who knows how to shoot video, amazing stuff.

PEREIRA: A speedy recovery to him.

A quick programming note. Coming to CNN, a new series from executive producers, Tom Hanks and Gary Getzman (ph), "The Sixties." It's the decade that reached American's lives in ways still felt today. Watch next Thursday night, 9:00 eastern and pacific on CNN. You can tell me about those days.

BERMAN: Yeah, I'll harkening back to my favorite moments of the 1960s, like when I was a zygote (ph).

Thanks for joining us @THISHOUR. We hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. We'd like to say thank you to all the men and women who serve. Have a great weekend. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.