I would ordinarily pass on topics such as Donald Sterling’s presumably private conversations. If you’re not familiar with the situation, just Google “Sterling comments” and you can’t miss it. Taped conversations between Sterling—owner of the NBA’s LA Clippers franchise—and his former girlfriend, V. Stiviano, were aired on TMZ. Sterling made some racially charged and likely alcohol-induced comments, and everyone from basketball analysts to the President is airing their disdain.
You can listen to the complete hour-long conversation online if you like. I’m not interested in defending his comments; I can’t. However, there are some important angles people are missing.
Although Sterling appears to have a history of race-tinged comments, he has received a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP and was scheduled to receive another one. Why? My guess is that Sterling made a hefty contribution to the NAACP as part of the arrangement.
There are also questions surrounding the recording. What gives Stiviano the right to record their private conversations anyway? Whatever happened to the left’s so-called constitutional right to privacy? Is this situation connected to the ongoing lawsuit between Sterling’s estranged wife and Stiviano?
Consider the response from the LA Clippers. All 14 of the roster players earn in excess of $1 million annually; five of them make more than $10 million. They are well-compensated professionals. Basketball commentators have been telling us ad nauseum how difficult it is for them to endure such comments from the owner. The players actually considered boycotting their play-off game on Sunday in protest. I’ve had bosses who’ve said some disgusting things in the past, but not showing up for work was never an option.
Then there are calls for Sterling’s scalp, most beginning with, “He shouldn’t be allowed to…” I guess the concept of free speech doesn’t count when you address certain topics. Free speech, even when bigoted, is always the best policy because the alternative is worse; it empowers someone else to decide what speech will and will not be permitted.
Some are demanding that the NBA require Sterling to sell the team. I doubt there’s anything in the charter that gives the NBA widespread jurisdiction over owners’ private conversations. When this point was made to one commentator, his response was quick and clean: “The NBA should find a way. Sterling’s comments are disgusting that he shouldn’t be allowed to own a team regardless of any technicalities.” Really? So contracts are not just technicalities if someone doesn’t like what you say? If you’re willing to overlook this principle and pile on Sterling because you find his comments offensive, don’t be surprised when they come for you. If you think you’re safe, just ask Brendan Eich.
I understand the NBA’s interest in protecting the brand. Nonetheless, the market is completely capable of resolving this situation, and it will if it’s allowed to do so. Season-ticket holders can refuse to renew next year. Advertisers can back off as well. Players who find the terms of their contracts unbearable can refuse to re-sign with the team when they become free agents.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure the market will be allowed to resolve this. The lynch mob is coming for Sterling and will probably get him first.