Ever had a disagreement with your significant other, co-workers or friends? Ever say anything that, in retrospect, you regret and wouldn’t necessarily want printed on the front page of the Brandon Sun or reported on TMZ?
If so, then imagine being Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, who had a really bad week.
Last weekend, recorded conversations between the 81-year old Sterling and his girlfriend/assistant, known as V. Stiviano, came to the surface in which the married Sterling was complaining about Stiviano being seen at Clippers games in the company of prominent African-American men. She also tweeted and Instagramed photos of herself with black men, including Magic Johnson.
In his rant, Sterling made demands about removing Stiviano’s Instagram photos showing her with black men including California politicians and sports figures. When reminded that the vast majority of players Sterling employs are black, he stated: "I support them and give them food and clothes and cars. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?" This all sounds like a scene from "Mandingo."
Sterling appears to have a worldview in which highly skilled black employees are his plantation hands. I’m confident the Clippers players would be able to find other team owners to hire them and use their skills. This is not "Twelve Years a Slave."
There are so many issues that this sad episode has brought to the surface. While no one should be hurrying to defend his piggish, idiotic, racist rants, it is not illegal for someone to think in a piggish, idiotic, racist manner. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution defends Sterling’s right to be offensive. In today’s politically correct world, there is a greater awareness of the impact such hateful words can cause. None of us are perfect, but we should work towards being better.
Sterling has a right to expect private conversations remain private. However, in the new world communications, there is little privacy left to us. There is even less privacy for billionaire NBA team owners. He can, and perhaps should, consider legal action against Stiviano, for recording their conversation. (There is an argument over whether this recording, and many others, were authorized by Sterling.)
That, however, is not the NBA’s problem, nor is where Sterling spoke or with whom. Rather, it is what he said.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him for life from the league. I’m not entirely sure what that means, as he owns the team. Will they force a sale? I assume so, but the actual process has not yet been announced.
Sterling has been widely reviled in the NBA for years for his behaviour and now, finally, the smoking gun arose thus enabling the league to deal him a death blow. The league itself knew what type of person he was for years, thanks to several housing discrimination lawsuits with the U.S. Department of Justice as well as rumours inside the sport.
What I find most interesting about this is that it is a highly complex issue being debated in simple terms. One suggested a remedy to this racism is an "all black basketball league?" Isn’t that racism too? I don’t understand how someone could view this type of hatred as being any less revolting than Sterling’s.
There are larger issues at play in this ugly episode. For example, is a person allowed to have private views that society finds repugnant, and yet continue to thrive and prosper in our society? The answer, of course, is that it depends.
We are very hit-and-miss with our declarations of appropriateness and acceptable behaviour. Inconsistencies are rampant.
The ugly lyrics and behaviour of many rappers is seemingly acceptable to a broader society who rarely questions their misogynistic and often violent comments. Certainly the questionable behaviour of many athletes who father children with an endless array of women and then fail to meet their parental obligations should fail to meet the appropriateness test by any measure.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has been very outspoken about Sterling, used to publicly refer to New York City as "Jew York" and "Hymietown." Now he is passing judgment.
But, as we in Brandon know, the higher your level of prominence, the greater is the scrutiny you are under. When Mayor Shari Decter Hirst failed to pay her property taxes, it was loudly displayed on the pages of the Sun. Other people also failed to pay, but the mayor serves in a leading role and, therefore, this is a big story. Unfair? Perhaps, but it goes with the territory.
Ultimately, this is a case about a wealthy individual who lived both privately and publicly in a manner inconsistent with society’s values. It caught up with him, and the rest is history.