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article imageOp-Ed: Will the Sterling mob rule the day? Special

By Kiara Ashanti     Apr 29, 2014 in Sports
The decision was swift, decisive, and severe. At a press conference in New York, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling would be banned for life from the NBA, and fined $2.5 million dollars.
Tmzsports broke the story over the April 25th weekend, in which Sterling is distraught over his Stiviano habitually taking pictures with and associating in public with black people. In a recording 15 minutes in length, Sterling tells V. Stiviano:
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?,
"You can sleep with them. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that 3c and not to bring them to my games”
and perhaps most attention grabbing,
"Don't put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."
Any of the comments would have been damning. However, to make it personal by naming one of the NBA's most beloved icons, Magic Johnson, as someone you do not want around, made a hot story explode. It also provided newly minted NBA commissioner Silver a perfect, and no doubt unwanted, opportunity to show what leader he will be as Commissioner. While the comments stand on their own, Silver had past events to reflect on as well. Sterling has been accused and sued over allegations of racism by NBA legend Elgin Baylor. The Department of Justice also sued Sterling over allegations of housing discrimination. In the Baylor case, Sterling was cleared. In the other he settled with the DOJ, and paid a $2.75 million dollar fine.
The past coupled with the newly publicized remarks prompted calls for Sterling's removal from the NBA five seconds after the audio hit the Internet airwaves. Silver did not disappoint. In eyes sports fans, and American's eyes period, Silver hit a home run with his decision to force Sterling out of the league.
The only problem is that he is wrong; as is everyone who wants to remove him from team ownership.
No one can dispute his remarks are bigoted and racist. What is also not in dispute is people have a right to be racist, bigoted, mean, or nasty in their private lives. Sterling was not giving a speech. He was not talking to an employee at the Clipper office complex. He was not giving an interview. Sterling was not in a restaurant, where conceivably he could be overheard. He was in a private conversation with an expectation of privacy. Now, there are some reports that Sterling did ask to be recorded, in order to have a record of his thoughts throughout the day. Yet, that is no different from recording your thoughts or personal notes in a journal. Simply put, he is being punished because of privately held, and privately spoken words. If Sterling can be punished for his private, but not publicly uttered words, then so can you. So can all of us.
In the press conference, a reporter asked Commissioner Silver about the recording being a private conversation. Silver's response was, “Well, it’s public now.” That does not bode well.
In the last year we have seen Chick-fil-a, and former CEO of Mozilla Brendan Eich attacked over their views about gay marriage. At least in those examples, the information was public. Sterling's conversation was not. Now imagine an angry soon to be ex-wife, secretly recording her Christian husband talking about his views on gay marriage and homosexuality. Imagine a player being secretly recorded discussing how he feels standing next to a gay player in the shower. Imagine a sports executive who is a veteran secretly recorded moments after a terrorist attack on America. The slippery slope of this decision is not a slope; it is a landslide.
The hateful comments from Sterling make it easy to dislike him, pity him, and even hate him. It makes it easy to say, “We cannot have people like him representing the NBA. I don’t care what could happen to someone else, we know he is a racist and its karma.” That is easy to do.
What's easy to do to him today is also easy to do to someone else, over something else as well. In this world, in this country, you do not get to punish people for the things they say in private. You do not, or rather should not, be able to strip someone of their assets or job, because some independent party decided to play NSA agent, and record your private conversation. That is wrong. That is improper. It could be legally tenuous.
“According to what has been released publicly about the NBA Constitution [document that governs the players and owners] fines are at the discretion of the league and Commissioner,” says, attorney, radio talk show host and frequent Fox news Commentator, Eboni K. Williams. “But legally, he [Sterling] could file an antitrust lawsuit. Claiming that at the discretion of the NBA commissioner the other owners colluded to restraint his right of trade.”
Sports Attorney Steven Olenick, partner at Kantor, Davidoff, has a different view. “Sterling can go after the girlfriend only. But fighting the NBA…it does not matter if the conversation was private. It came to public light, and so the NBA can punish in this manner.”
When asked if that was fair, Olenick was curt. “You have to be mindful of everyone you speak to.” In other words, in a world that with smart phones good enough to record high quality video and audio, the Rubicon has already been passed.
Sterling can do nothing about the fines, but there may be some legal, and yes, some moral leg to stand on and prevent the taking of his ownership, despite how the other owners vote. If he wants his team, he could probably keep it. If Silver plans to get rid of him no matter what, it could cost the NBA some blood money. It all depends on what Sterling wants to do, and no not with what he said, or how most people feel about it.
We do not get to like everything people say, or believe. Freedom of speech gives us that right. Freedom of speech does not protect us from the consequences of that speech. The right to privacy; however, does. Everyday everyone says, thinks, or even writes things someone will find offensive. If any of those beliefs are not for public consumption, what right does anyone have to punish a person for them?
The fight against racism, sexism, or ageism is a legitimate battle to be fought and won. Are we; however, moving into an era we have to agree with everyone else to not be harmed economically? During a press conference that followed Commissioner Silvers announcement, player representative and for NBA star, Kevin Johnson, said, “This is a message to other bigots that you to will fall.”
Strong words, but who is the bigot? Is it the person who does not agree with gay marriage? Or that person who refuses to call a transgender man, a woman? It is that person who does not like Muslim terrorists? Will it ever be someone who espouses anti-Israel and therefore anti-Semitic remarks? How does any NBA star, executive, or owners, know what is allowed to say at home today versus next week?
No one will feel sorry for Sterling. He is loathed. He will probably make a billion off the sale of his team, IF the NBA can force it him out. And that is not a foregone conclusion. Legally, he can fight this, and legally he could win. Either way, he is persona non grata forever now. What about the next person? That's the next question; the real question. When do their private conversations become legitimate fodder for others to decide their fates on. What happens when its someone not so mean. What happens when, God forbid, it is you?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about NBA, donald sterling, adam silver, Racism, Magic johnson
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