The Sterling effect
By Paul Moomjean 05/08/2014
Well, well, well. What a crazy few weeks it has been for the NBA sports community. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been banned from the NBA for life due to a racist rant, caught on tape by his mistress. When brand-new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made his much-lauded decision, he spoke clearly and to the point. Silver went above and beyond a stripping of the team, and Sterling’s comments have created a scenario that doesn’t allow him any access to a league he’s worked in for more than 30 years. According to Silver, Sterling is not allowed to attend any NBA games or practices, and the longtime owner is not allowed to enter any Clippers facility or be involved in any business or player personnel decision that affects the team. Sterling has also been put out in the cold concerning the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings and other league activities. Along with that ruling, a $2.5 million fine was attached. While all of this is justified on a PR level, with the majority of the NBA community supporting the decisions, what does this mean in an era of politically correct speech and a social media network that can capture every unpopular thought, action and belief?
Before I go further, let’s look at the crux of the racist rant given by Sterling:
“I support them [black players] and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have — Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?”
Those are the words of a very ignorant man, no doubt. He even told his mistress that he didn’t want her to hang out with black people or take pictures with Magic Johnson. He even went as far as to tell her not to bring Magic, a hero of the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, to any of the home games.
Sterling’s words hurt. Numerous players and celebrities tweeted their disdain for Sterling and his comments. Oprah hit the nail on the head with her analysis by stating that his comments and attitudes smell of “a plantation mentality in the 21st century in 2014. It just doesn’t fit.” And that is exactly right. The 80-year-old billionaire does appear to have a plantation-owner mindset, feeling justified in “supporting” them through the giving of income, food and housing. He is living out what Cliven Bundy was “wondering” out loud. Sterling sees himself as a savior of the black community, not a villain, and he justifies his condescending contempt through acts of self-righteous charity. In fact, the NAACP was about to hand the man a Lifetime Achievement Award prior to the leaked comments.
So with all of the damning evidence, one question must be asked: What happens next for all of us? If unpopular speech can get a longtime owner banned from his job, what can our employers do to us?
Was Donald Sterling wrong? Yes. Was Donald Sterling morally repulsive? Absolutely. Was Donald Sterling racist? Most definitely. But do private thoughts, captured unbeknown, require a man to lose his job? Look, he’s beyond wealthy and old and will ironically become wealthier after selling the team, but what happens to us when we say something unpopular, ignorant or racist behind closed doors?
What happens when a co-worker complains about a joke you say on the job, or what about a religious idea being expressed in a cubicle through a calendar or poster? What if you tell a person you don’t support same-sex marriage, or you want undocumented workers to go back to their native countries? Or on the opposite end, what if you mention by the water cooler your objections to our soldiers fighting a war or why you feel a religious group is kooky? What happens then? Does this one ruling create a new cultural work standard?
I don’t support Donald Sterling. I don’t agree with his worldview. But I’m not sure I want to ban a man because he doesn’t agree with me.