By now, if you pay attention to the news, sports or gossip arenas at all, you should have heard that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught making some doubly-bizarre racist comments to his girlfriend in what was supposed to be a private conversation.
An uproar commenced, chaos ensued, protests were organized and Sterling was officially fined $2.5 million and banned from ever again attending “any NBA games or practices.” Nor can he “be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.” He’ll also be locked out of any Board of Governors meetings or other league activity.
Again, that’s all for life. And according to Yahoo’s sportscasters, $2.5 million “is the maximum the NBA can issue under the NBA constitution.” Meaning that NBA commissioner Adam Silver might have gone even higher if he legally could have.
Now, Donald Sterling is an idiot, not only for saying what he said but thinking the thoughts in the first place. I don’t feel sorry for him at all.
What I am concerned about, is the larger societal inferences we can make from this stupid saga.
Racist comments are protected under the First Amendment. That’s the downside of the United States Constitution. It allows people a certain degree of ignorance. Hence the reason why Obama got elected not once but twice.
Racist comments are apparently not protected under the NBA’s terms and agreements of ownership. So the organization is legally allowed to throw Donald Sterling under the regulatory bus and run over him as many times as it sees fit. In this case, 2.5 million times. And then some.
Legally, it has every right. But logically? This was a cowardly PR stunt, pure and simple.
He did bring a lot of negative attention on the NBA, so I can see banning him for a year. But inflicting the most drastic punishment possible for expressing some stupid comments?
That’s actually kind-of scary. It tells me that society is terrified of offending certain groups. It says that, as a nation, we are more focused on gaining approval – or even worse, avoiding disapproval – than doing the right thing.
I mean, what would the NBA do if one of its own was involved in an assault allegation? Or rape? Or murder? My guess is not much, since those actual crimes are a lot more societally acceptable than merely hurting the wrong people’s feelings.
Again, Sterling is a racist, and I don’t feel sorry for him one bit. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy about his sentencing. Because it tells me we’re nowhere even close to solving our race issues.