No fence-sitters in Donald Sterling debate

Commentators swift to give their opinions, but some are slow to realise Clippers issue is more complex than it might at first seem

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 8:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 10:55pm

There was no sitting this one out. None. Even Michael Jordan, the anti-activist, was forced to get involved.

When Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape uttering absurdly racist comments, the condemnation had to be fast and furious.

And it was. Within 72 hours, freshly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned the octogenarian Sterling for life and fined him US$2.5 million, the maximum allowable.

Freedom of speech also means you are free to suffer the consequences of your speech
Tim Noonan

Not only is Sterling forbidden to have anything to do with the Clippers, he can never enter an arena where an NBA game is being played.

Too often the actions and decisions of people in power, particularly in the world of sports, are greatly compromised and defy logic and reason.

However, for once a decision was made that makes perfect sense. There is no way the team could function if Sterling had received a one-year ban.

A number of sponsors had already pulled their support of the Clippers and no player in a league that is 80 per cent black would play for them. Fans would boycott; the circus would never end.

But all of those consequences are logistical and financial and while the NBA is a massive corporation that has long prioritised its business concerns, Sterling had to be banned for moral reasons as well.

There is no way someone who is caught on tape, entrapped or not, telling his girlfriend that he is very upset she keeps posting pictures of herself with black athletes - Dodgers star Matt Kemp and Lakers legend Magic Johnson to be specific - on her instagram webpage and that she should stop socialising with them in public, can be allowed to own a professional sports franchise in 2014.

If that strikes you as being pious then so be it. Sterling can say whatever he wants, regardless of how outrageous it is, and over the years he has done just that.

But freedom of speech also means you are free to suffer the consequences of your speech. The first amendment in the US constitution covering freedom of speech applies to government intervention, not legal issues in private corporations.

If the powers that be at the NBA don't like what you say, they can deal with you accordingly. I have heard chief executives of very large corporations make off-colour and racist remarks in a jocular fashion that would result in immediate dismissal and disgrace if they had been recorded for posterity.

If they want to be careless and ignorant, then so be it It's got nothing to do with me and in the case of Sterling his lifetime ban by Silver is easily the least contentious issue in this whole tawdry affair.

But as far as the rest of the circus goes, you would be awfully lonely if you were travelling on the high road.

One person who has come through with his dignity intact is Kemp. Dragged into this by agreeing to have his picture taken with Sterling's youthful paramour, naturally he expressed disgust at Sterling's comment while also feeling empathy for him as a human being.

"You can't get mad at somebody for believing what they believe," said Kemp. "It's his own opinions." Oh, but you can, Matt.

Some folks got very mad and one of them was the president of the United States who, while he may have been well intentioned, only inflamed the circus by wading into the fray. I mean, he does have a few other things on his plate these days.

And the immediate appearance of the so-called "ambulance chasers" of the civil rights movement, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, to voice their outrage before any sort of due process also helped to inflame things.

Once the NBA's greatest player, Jordan is now owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and he was also quick to call for Sterling's censure. This was the same Jordan who once refused to support a Democratic candidate in a North Carolina election because "Republicans buy sneakers too".

And for all the right-wing zealots who are quick to claim that Jackson and Sharpton speak for all black people, can we then assume that radicals like Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin are the voice of conservative America?

Through it all the Clipper players had to concentrate on their first-round match-up with the Golden State Warriors and, to their credit, performed admirably and now face a deciding game seven at home this weekend.

But by far the most beguiling part of this entire affair is Sterling himself. Why would a man who has expressed his disdain for blacks want to own an NBA team dominated by them? Sterling has also been forced to settle discrimination lawsuits over his refusal to rent his properties to minorities.

Ironically, his hateful and divisive ways have now unified the NBA.