Most of my legal career has been spent defending the first amendment, and the rights of citizens to express themselves in many ways and forms.
It’s better being here than in Saudi Arabia. They recently declared atheism, or any “theism” not supportive of Islam to be blasphemy. In Saudi Arabia, that’s a capital crime. You could be hung.
In America, what Donald Sterling said is not a crime. We can only hang him out to dry, and we most certainly should. A businessman purportedly worth over a billion dollars, it says something that every major sponsor from Nike to Airlines Company has cut off the owner of the LA Clippers financially. He understands money. Now he is about to learn money can’t pay for everything.
Still, this is not just about money. It’s about ethics, morality, and whom we want as players in the game. Fortunately, the NBA, like other major sports, is a voluntary association and the good of the whole is greater than the needs of one. The NBA can do without the Donald Sterlings of the world.
To join the exclusive club of owners, you give up certain rights. You can’t do or say things that impact the best interests of the game or the community. Like going to work for an employer, you are expected to project an image consistent with the good of the company. If you fail to do so, you can be fined, suspended, or terminated from that exclusive club.
In February 1993, Marge Schott, the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, was suspended several times and fined $25,000 after a series of racist and insensitive comments including at one point supporting Adolf Hitler. She sold the team in 1999. That is the fate that awaits Mr. Sterling. There is no exit strategy outside of excommunication. Nor should there be. This dude deserves no breaks.
In America, you get to say what you want, but you have to be willing to pay the price. You have the right to be a bigot, and publish racist remarks or even homophobic comments. But we have a right to out you for making them. As to Mr. Sterling, and I use the term mister loosely, we should. Ironic, this was the most successful year ever for the hapless Clippers.
Adam Silver only became NBA commissioner on February 1 of this year. He was called upon to make a historic decision and rose to the occasion, banning Sterling for life. He authorized Sterling’s banishment, but it was one evoked by the racist’s own words. He will now ask the league to force the sale of the team. They have that authority under their constitution. They just need a three-quarter majority vote.
The things that Sterling said about blacks we have often heard said of gays. They are things we know people think but can’t believe when we hear them said. Still, we should never be surprised, because ultimately, we know discrimination still infects America.
Donald Sterling is just another insect so exposed. What we do to most insects we should do to him. Swat him good, and thanks to Adam Silver and the NBA, we have. The league and the institution is bigger than one man.