I understand Bill Zeiser’s “very angry thoughts” about the lifetime ban of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling by the NBA. But in the end, I can’t agree with them.
Sure, Mr. Sterling had his private thoughts outed after his girlfriend surreptitiously recorded them.
But seriously, did Mr. Sterling never consider that a tramp 50 years his junior whom he was plying with real estate and fancy cars might not have his best interests at heart? (He clearly suggested, using words I can’t repeat on these family-friendly pages, that she was sleeping with other men — and that he didn’t mind.)
Does a billionaire lawyer owner of an NBA team really think that he has a private life when he pals around with the world’s most obvious gold-digger since Anna Nicole Smith?
Add into the mix that Sterling’s wife (no, not ex-wife, actual wife and “partner for more than half a century” who didn’t seem to care that Sterling paid for young girlfriends to have sex with) was suing the mistress for a couple million bucks, and my first advice to Sterling about V. Stiviano would have been “watch your back.” But I guess he was too busy watching hers.
So it’s hard for me to feel bad for Mr. Sterling when he said something he never should have said — never even should have thought, but I’m not suggesting the Thought Police, just some common sense — and it got made public.
It’s also hard, or perhaps impossible, to feel sorry for Mr. Sterling getting in trouble for making vile bigoted comments given his past history of racist behavior and rhetoric, including that “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.” The NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, said that Sterling’s racist history was not part of the NBA’s decision-making process regarding the penalty, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should ignore it.
Putting aside whether Mr. Sterling should or shouldn’t be penalized for comments he made privately, the idea, as Mr. Zeiser suggests, that the reaction is some form of attack on free speech just doesn’t pass the smell test.
Sterling is part of a large, extremely valuable, wildly profitable organization that lives by certain rules, which the NBA calls its “Constitution and By-Laws.” Section 24(l) notes that the Commissioner can do almost anything he wants that is “in the best interests of the Association” except that a monetary penalty cannot exceed $2.5 million. Furthermore, Section 35A(d) says that the Commissioner can suspend anyone who “in his opinion, shall have been guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Association.”
With the rapid withdrawal of sponsors, with players barely willing to play, with the tremendous damage that Sterling’s utterances made and would have continued to inflict on the NBA, a lifetime ban strikes me as reasonably proportionate to the offense. Like it or not, to the extent that the man does or says anything in public or which gets made public, he is a face, even if not the face (and not much of a face), of the NBA.
Sterling’s words, as well as his history, are not analogous to the story of Brendan Eich (about which Mr. Zeiser was more reasonably outraged), the Mozilla CEO ousted for a political contribution supporting California’s Prop 8. Even when information about that contribution was illegally made public, nothing about it (other than liberal spin) pointed to Eich behaving in a way that harmed his organization or suggested actual bigotry; he simply supported traditional marriage. He never said or implied that he didn’t like gays or wouldn’t treat them the same way he would treat any other employee.
Furthermore, Eich made a modest donation to a measure that received majority support of his state — not that majority support is the definition of right and wrong. I can’t think of a single person outside of “white power” groups who would venture even the slightest defense of Sterling’s behavior. (Actually, as unsavory as the experience was, I checked a well-known neo-Nazi website and their discussion was more about Sterling being Jewish than about their sharing his views of blacks.)
I repeat: Sterling is another thing entirely from Eich. He literally did not want the presence of a black man at his team’s games. (Apparently he hasn’t looked over at the team bench in a while.)
It’s true that Kevin Johnson (quite the corruptocrat himself) went too far when suggesting that Mr. Sterling’s “fall” should be a warning to “every bigot in this country.” He, like everyone on the left, won’t miss a chance to try to silence opponents by making them fear cries of “racist!”
But Sterling really is a racist. He isn’t just any bigot, nor is his just any bigotry, nor — once it made its way into the public domain — is it ordinary private behavior. Sterling broke the NBA’s rules in an extremely damaging way. So let’s not cry crocodile tears for a man who is getting just what he deserves. The punishment fits the crime, and says little or nothing about “free speech” in America though it may say something about how easy modern technology makes it to secretly record conversations.
It is worth noting, though it will go mostly undiscussed because of the impact of this mess, that California is a “two-party consent” state, meaning that both parties to a private conversation must consent to the conversation being recorded. V. Stiviano’s recording of the conversation (unless somehow Sterling approved of it, which can’t be true unless Sterling is the dumbest man alive) is therefore illegal. Anyone think they’ll find a district attorney willing to file those charges?
A word must be said about the NAACP, which is not a victim in this sordid scene, but Sterling's self-serving enabler.
The organization had given Sterling a “lifetime achievement” award in 2009 and was planning to give him another one on May 15. As NAACP board member Alice Huffman noted caustically, “I thought to myself, ‘A second lifetime award? That's kind of unusual. He has’t died and come back to life.’”
The fact that that the L.A. chapter of the NAACP, which must have known Sterling’s history as a racist slumlord, was going to honor him again because he was buying their bonhomie all but proves that the group, along with some of the country’s loudest proponents of “racial justice,” often function as little more than shakedown machines.
One might have thought that paying protection went out with John Gotti, but clearly the race hustlers learned the lesson well. If extortion is good enough for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (who will still get his honor at that same event), it’s good enough for the NAACP. It’s really just the modern era’s indulgences, right?
So maybe Sterling was really trying to buy a clean conscience; the President of the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP, Leon Jenkins, says that he had made multiple contributions to minority charities. But even with piles of $100 bills, Sterling can’t paper over his reprehensible words and deeds.
As for whether it was ethical for minority-oriented charities to take money from a known racist, that is perhaps the most interesting question of all.