If you’ve never said anything in private that you’d be ashamed to say in public, you can stop reading this. You won’t be able to relate to this blog, and in fact you should be commended for your amazing consistency.
You’re still here? Okay, good. Now it’s time to face a few ugly realities about the Donald Sterling situation and the hoopla surrounding it.
On the surface, it seems obvious. Donald Sterling made several clearly racist statements in a conversation with his then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano. Ms. Stiviano made a recording of that conversation available to TMZ, who then published it for the world to hear. Specifically, Sterling lectured Stiviano that he didn’t want her being seen in public with black people, including Magic Johnson. This would have been alarming when coming from anyone in public eye, but Donald Sterling is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are one of 30 NBA teams — a sport where about 75 percent of the players are black. This made it especially outrageous and newsworthy.
NBA players from around the league, including superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, made their feelings known that Sterling should not be allowed to own the Clippers anymore. At first glance, this makes sense. Basketball is a huge part of American black culture, and the NBA is comprised mostly of black players. How could the NBA continue to allow a clear racist like Sterling to own a team? The knee-jerk reaction most people have is to agree with LeBron, Kobe, and the others — to force Sterling to sell and send him packing.
After all, there is somewhat of a precedent here, right? In 1999, under three years of pressure from Major League Baseball, infamous racist owner Marge Schott sold the Cincinnati Reds. This was after being banned thrice from baseball over the past two years, over various racist and anti-Semitic public statements.
If MLB could force out Schott for racism in 1999, why shouldn’t the NBA do the same in 2014, especially given that our society has progressed further in those 15 years in the fight against racism and other social injustices?
There’s one very big reason why Sterling should be treated differently than Schott:
His comments were made in private, in his own home, and supposed to only be heard by his then-girlfriend.
By contrast, Schott’s comments were either public (as part of interviews) or made in the workplace (where comments overheard and reported become fair game for the public to scrutinize).
There’s a HUGE difference between the two.
But why? Isn’t racism in private the same as racism in public? Why should a racist get a pass just because he keeps his feelings behind closed doors?
Because of exactly that reason — Sterling kept his feelings behind closed doors. Regardless of how ignorant or offensive, everyone should have the right to private conversations in their own homes. The NBA should not be punishing Sterling for something he said in his own house to his girlfriend, no matter how offensive or off-putting.
Thanks to V. Stiviano’s unauthorized recordings, we know Sterling is a racist. Great.
What about the other 29 NBA owners? What do we know about their private statements and feelings? Do you really believe that all 29 other NBA owners have never uttered a racist, sexist, or homophobic statement when only surrounded by friends or family? We will never know, because we do not have access to unauthorized and illegal recordings made in their homes. They all get a pass not because they’re necessarily innocent, but because nobody committed the crime of illegally recording their private conversations.
Illegally? Yes. This took place in the state of California, where it is currently illegal to record conversations without all parties’ knowledge and consent. This includes both telephone conversations and in-person conversations, the latter of which occured with Sterling and V. Stiviano.
Grading On Different Standards for the Same Class
When I was in college, I went to look at my grade in a certain course, and noticed it was lower than I expected. According to my calculations, I should have gotten an A-, but instead I had a B+. Upon looking at the chart (listed by student ID #), I saw that one of my homework assignments had incorrectly been recorded as zero.
I visited the professor, who had already submitted the grades for processing, and showed him my graded homework (which had received full credit). He acknowledged that the homework’s grade looked authentic and that this was likely just a recording mistake. He affably promised to correct it.
I got a disturbing e-mail from him the next day. “You were correct that your homework was incorrectly reported as zero, and I have given you credit. However, as the homework was stapled to a test you had taken at the time, I decided to take a look at the test, and found you had been given too much partial credit for certain answers that were not completely right. Therefore, that negates the homework misrecording, and your overall grade remains the same.”
I was furious. The test had nothing to do with this. It was only stapled to the homework because the two were graded at the same time, and the grader (someone other than the professor) stapled them together for everyone. I did not detach them because I wanted to leave everything in the exact state they had been when given to me, so as to prove my homework grade’s authenticity. Why was he regrading my test? I determined that he was just lazy, and didn’t feel like filling out the tedious grade change form.
I visited his office and said that this was completely unfair. Since he didn’t grade these tests himself, he changed a different person’s interpretation of what partial credit I should have received. This means that everyone else in the class got this more generous partial credit, because he was unable to re-grade theirs.
I told him this would only be fair if he could re-grade all other tests in the class, which was impossible because the term had ended and many students were long gone (or had disposed of the test). Absent of that, he had to let my test grade stand. Otherwise, I was being graded on a different standard than everyone else.
Knowing I had an unrefutable point, the professor then stammered, “Well, umm… how do I know that homework was really graded and not just turned in by you now? Uhh… I think I have to do an investigation on that…”
I told him that he had 24 hours to change my grade before I file an official grievance against him and go to the school paper about it. A few hours later, he called me and stated that he had changed my grade as requested. Surprisingly, he said to me, “I admit there might have been some other reasons I went and regraded that test.”
So Why Did You Just Tell Us That Long, Boring Story?
That story of my shady college professor from the early ’90s probably seemed like an out-of-place non-sequitur, but it actually applies very much to the Sterling situation.
The media (and maybe the NBA) is grading Sterling on his in-home, private conversations. We don’t get to grade the other 29 NBA owners the same way, because nobody stole their private conversations. Therefore, he is being judged by an unfair standard. He should not be removed from his NBA ownership because of an illegally-obtained private conversation, unless we are also going to illegally obtain private conversations from all other NBA owners and judge them based upon it.
Now, there are exceptions to the above. If V. Stiviano recorded him confessing to a crime, such as molesting young boys, then that would be a different story. In that case, we would have an admission of horrific criminal behavior (even if it couldn’t be used in a court of law), rather than just evidence of him being a racist jerk.
The law in California is in place for a reason. It is to give citizens the protection of free speech in their own private homes, without having to worry who was secretly recording them for blackmail or revenge at a later date.
For some reason, V. Stiviano has not been arrested or charged with breaking this law, despite the fact that she broke the very spirit of it.
Donald Sterling Isn’t a Good Man
Please don’t take this blog as a defense of Donald Sterling.
I believe he is a racist.
I believe he is a scumbag. There are other stories about him from over the years that don’t exactly paint him in a good light.
He was only in this position to be recorded by his girlfriend because he was cheating on his wife. This has been surprisingly overlooked, but “old, rich white guy cheating on his wife with a girl 50 years his junior” is often the evidence of a selfish, cold, narcissistic personality.
He was also a terrible basketball owner for many, many years before the Blake Griffin/Chris Paul era. He intentionally ran a cheap (and bad) team out there year after year, knowing people would still come to the games and he’d make a healthier profit than if he fielded a contender. For that alone, he should have been forced out of ownership many years ago.
But an illegally obtained private conversation where he did not admit to any crime should never be a reason to remove an NBA owner. It sets a terrible precedent. The NBA would basically be rewarding V. Stiviano’s vengeful, illegal behavior.
Is V. Stiviano a Hero?
Some might believe that Stiviano, who is half-black herself, is a modern civil rights hero. Knowing that her boyfriend was a behind-the-scenes racist despite owning a team in the mostly-black NBA, she took matters into her own hands and opened everyone’s eyes to the true man behind the curtain.
Except that’s not really what happened.
V. Stiviano is a notorious gold digger, with a reputation for going after super-rich, elderly men.
Listen to the conversation below, and you will hear stilted, rehearsed speech on Stiviano’s part, meant to induce Sterling into making his stupid comments.
Make no mistake, Sterling is indeed a racist and meant everything he said. But Stiviano wasn’t recording a conversation that just happened to be taking place. She clearly set this whole thing up, as an act of revenge against Sterling, whom she felt wasn’t doing enough to stop a lawsuit by his estranged wife against her, involving gifts he had given. Stiviano knew she was probably on her way off the gravy train very soon, and needed some ammunition in case Sterling didn’t cooperate in letting her keep her millions of dollars in sleazily-obtained riches.
This was an angry gold-digger’s carefully-crafted revenge plot, not a freedom fighter for people of color.
Should Sterling Get Off Scot-Free?
Donald Sterling shouldn’t be forced out as an NBA owner, but he will suffer in plenty of ways.
His legacy will always be tainted. People will never look at him the same again.
He has already lost 12 sponsors for the Clippers, and new ones are unlikely to come aboard as long as Sterling is the owner.
He will have a hard time signing future players to the Clippers. Existing players will run for the hills as soon as their contracts are over.
Fans will stop attending games, for as long as he is the owner.
Sterling will suffer immensely for this, both personally and financially. It is my guess that, if the NBA doesn’t force him out, Sterling will decide himself to sell, seeing this an unwinnable situation that is unlikely to ever change.
And I’m totally fine with that. He can’t take back what he said. People can’t un-hear what V. Stiviano released, even if she obtained it through sleazy and illegal means. Fans, players, and sponsors have a right to not want to support a racist.
Let the free market take care of Sterling. Don’t support intrusive actions that establish a precedent that punish a man for opinions expressed in his own private home.
Still don’t agree? Let me know when I can plant a bug in your home and publish the juiciest stuff you say.
One thought on “Let the Free Market Decide Donald Sterling’s Fate”
What makes the NBA action okay with me is that sports are an unusual business model. The various owners are essentially partners – they only compete on-court. If you’ve got a clown partner whose actions – however discovered – have the potential to diminish the value of *your* asset, he’s gotta go.
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