Culbreath: Sterling reputationWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Pity the Clip Show, because even when the Los Angeles Clippers win, they lose.
In their third consecutive year making the playoffs, and their first year without having to share the postseason spotlight with the Lakers, instead of making headlines with their play on the court, the Clippers were instead in the news for an entirely, brutally different reason. Team owner Donald Sterling was recently banned from the NBA for life for some incredibly racist comments he made in a recorded conversation with his girlfriend.
After a few days of hearing this discussed on my radio station, I feel like I need to address some of the more common issues that keep coming up.
First and foremost: “Doesn’t he have the freedom of speech?” Sure he does. The First Amendment guarantees that the government may not pass laws to infringe on your right to say, print or draw whatever you want. Now, there is some question as to how this is applied lately, from everything from indecency laws to “free speech zones.” But Sterling hasn’t been criminally charged or arrested. The government has, in fact, done nothing. The court of public opinion is what weighed in here, and boy, did they bring down the lumber.
See, the freedom of speech includes the freedom to respond. We are not compelled to sit on our hands and listen to what somebody says. We are free to argue, walk away and refuse to talk to that person again.
The NBA is walking away, refusing to do business with the man, and using the rules he agreed to abide by in an effort to force him to sell the team. You can argue if they should, but you can’t argue that they can’t. I’d certainly hope you’d do the same if someone you did business with suddenly dropped a Marge Schott-like “Hitler was good at the beginning” kind of line.
Second: “Why is this blowing up now?” Yes, there are mounds of evidence of Sterling’s bad attitude for people with different levels of melanin in their skin, most of it tied to his property holdings, and his refusal to rent to African-Americans and Asian-Americans. So why is one recording suddenly the catalyst for his ouster?
There are two answers. The first is that the old guard at the NBA, former commissioner David Stern, never took Sterling on directly. Don’t know why. He was probably hoping Sterling would pass away before he did something else. Adam Silver, as new commissioner, had to come out strong in his first real test as the man in charge. Also, and it hurts to admit it, but you have to look at who broke the story on the recording: TMZ. Just the sheer volume of that audience, not to mention its direct feed into social media, meant that it was going to catch fire, and quickly.
And here’s the question that hasn’t been asked, but is in the back of the mind of everyone who’s freaked out by the whole situation: “Am I next?” Not to say that they have the same kind of hate in their heart as Sterling, but I think people are literally afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they say the wrong thing. They look at what happened at the Mozilla Corporation, when CEO Brendan Eich stepped down after a public outcry over his donations to campaigns that were trying ban same-sex marriage in California.
Look, Sterling and Eich were very high-ranking management. Donald Sterling was simultaneously a bigot toward minorities and an owner of a basketball team that employs minorities. You can see the conflict of interest. The same thing happened with Mozilla: The company employs many homosexuals, and had often been cited as a very gay-friendly organization. Hiring someone who does not hold those same values to lead the company caused many to be disillusioned with the direction of the organization. You can’t have a guy in charge who openly discriminates against his employees.
The fact of the matter is that there’s nothing illegal with what happened between the NBA and Sterling. Sterling has his views, and the NBA has theirs. They’re no longer compatible, and the NBA has the bigger stick.
“Shaggy” Matt Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD. Email him at shaggy@WSPD.com.
Tags: "free speech zones", Adam Silver, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, basketball, bigotry, Brendon Eich, California, Clip Show, Donald Sterling, First Amendment, former commissioner David Stern, indecency laws, Los Angeles Clippers, Marge Schott, Mozilla, NBA, radio station, same-sex marriage, TMZ