Society Needs To Be Careful In Wake Of Sterling NBA Punishment

In all the commotion surrounding the news today that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life due to his recent racial comments, I’m sure somewhere a Clippers’ employee is wondering if he/she will be paid in the next pay period.

Sterling was banned for life by Silver from attending an NBA game and having any dealings, influence or control over his own franchise. All because an audio recording of a conversation Sterling had with his girlfriend (who is a minority by the way) at some point prior to this past weekend was made public.

Now the operation of an entire NBA franchise is in absolute upheaval. If Sterling can’t run his team, who does? Who takes over the financial responsibilities? After all, this is a half-billion dollar entity with operation costs, hundreds of employees, sponsors, partners, etc. that do business with it. Somebody has to run the team and pay the bills. Who becomes that person and who does he/she answer to?

What Silver and the NBA have done is cross a line in an unprecedented way. They have alienated an owner for his belief system, not any specific, documented actions. That alienation includes being banned from his very own property and a $2.5 million fine. Now I may be as naïve as Sterling, but last time I checked Sterling was not facing legal action for any unfair, discriminatory or prejudicial actions that have gone down under his management of the Clippers.

Here are some facts: Sterling hired a black man as coach and vice president of basketball operations (well traded for him) in Doc Rivers. He owns a franchise which employs dozens of minorities. He is dating a minority.

We also know that Sterling, 80, has a documented history of holding racial opinions and being a slum lord. For anybody that has had frequent dealings with Sterling, the words on that tape come as no great surprise.

However, Sterling still was invited into NBA ownership. He has been an NBA owner since 1981, since his late 40’s. He went through a vetting process and was approved by the commissioner and NBA Board of Governors when he bought the Clippers. So Sterling was an acceptable owner for the last 33 years, but after one private conversation was leaked, everything changes?

It’s absurd. This is an organization that has buried its head in the sand for 30 years in regards to the type of man that Sterling is, yet now wants to act above reproach because a conversation came to light.

I have no qualms with the actions Silver took. Silver had no other choice but to take this step in acting to remove Sterling. But at the end of the day, what he did is unlawful. You can’t ban somebody from their own property without significant evidence of illegal operation or actions.

Sterling will take them to court and he should win. But then again, Sterling’s reputation is severely and irrevocably damaged. The operation of his franchise is permanently affected until he does sell or step down and pass the reins to a relative/partner.

Nobody will ever support who Sterling is or what he has done. The man is an ignorant bigot, simpleminded, arcane, yet he has legal rights. I don’t anticipate the lifetime ban to hold up under the court of law and Sterling should be able to step down or sell the team on his own terms.

Let’s not mince words here: Sterling has to go. There is no doubt about that, and the 80-year-old will be gone in due time. He knows that the state of his franchise is forever damaged and isn’t sustainable under his rule any longer. It is in his own best interest to sell and remove himself from the game.

But he shouldn’t be alienated in this way. The marketplace would have imposed far greater punishment on Sterling than anything Adam Silver could do legally. The Clippers would have seen season tickets dropped, sponsors walk (already have) and employees quit. Sterling would have been greeted hostilely in public and ultimately, wouldn’t have shown his face at games anyways.

I think society needs to be awfully careful about how it handles people and their personal opinions. I understand that the NBA has a code and when you enter the league as an owner or GM, you have to uphold that code to represent the league in a positive manner. Comprehend what I have written so far. My issue is with the precedent that we are setting as a society.

As far as I know, Sterling isn’t facing legal action for any policies or conduct within the LA Clippers organization. He just traded for a black head coach for crying out loud. A blatant racist doesn’t do that. He bought an NBA team on his own accord. Nobody forced him to buy an NBA team or to employ black athletes.

He holds ignorant opinions on race. I’m sure a good proportion of our society still does. But he hasn’t acted in a discriminatory manner.

Is it idiotic and ignorant and arcane and simpleminded and every other adjective in the dictionary to hold those beliefs? Yes. One hundred thousand percent yes. But this society needs to be awfully careful about how it handles people who voice hateful opinions whether privately or publicly that aren’t supported with any direct actions against a citizen. If we start trying to govern how people think and what they say, we lose all individuality and start living under authoritarian rule, a society akin to Germany circa 1938.

That isn’t forward thinking.


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