There are still lots of worthwhile conversations to have about repugnant racist and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling even in the aftermath of NBA commissioner Adam Silver letting Sterling fall through a trap door by way of imposing a lifetime ban and a maximum $2.5 million fine on him.
For starters, as the Associated Press’ Jesse Washingtonnotes, Sterling is being exiled from the NBA due to racist views he echoed in private being made public. And though Silver answered questions as to why he wasn’t punished for actual racist behavior put in practice through his business dealings (settled one case, won another), that doesn’t change the reality that PR was the driving force behind Sterling’s punishment, not principle. If anyone knows this, it’s Bomani Jones who wrote numerous pieces about Sterling’s racism, including one essay entitled “Sterling’s Racism Should Be News.”
Finally, it is, and though I don’t think any of us should discount that the NBA, a large and highly influential national organization, took a hard line, no tolerance policy toward a man displaying a despicable amount of racism, there is something to be said of why it took so long to get there.
Now, I’m less interested in conversations over whether Donald Sterling was punished for exercising his First Amendment right to say whatever he wants, no matter how vile it is. It’s one of those arguments always presented whenever a public figure faces consequences after a public backlash. I don’t know if people just want to be contrarians for the hell of it or if they’re in dire need of a quick lesson on civics and the way the Constitution actually works.
If you know anyone like this, please pass along a very important message: Do not confuse “free speech” with “showing my ass everywhere and enjoying life without any consequences.”
That is not how free speech works.
Free speech is the right to say whatever you want, but there have been certain limitations, and even if there weren’t, the First Amendment is not a get-out-of-culpability pass.
I don’t know what planet some people live on, but your words matter, especially if you’re a business owner that depends heavily on things like publicity, and well, common decency.
Donald Sterling being pushed out of the league for his bigoted remarks going viral is not an accosting of the First Amendment. If anything, it’s the First Amendment and capitalism tag teaming Sterling’s own stupidity. You made racist remarks about a business whose model deals primarily on Black labor and a good relationship with the public, which in turn resulted in you being investigated and subsequently punished.
Donald Sterling will likely walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars, but it won’t negate the fact that the man who didn’t want his girlfriend to bring Black people to Clippers game can now no longer attend the games themselves.
Should other NBA owners find themselves at risk over their views on race, sexuality, or political issues that suggest intolerance, so be it.
That said, for those who truly care about equality, make note of Bomani Jones’ more recent comments about the new Sterling controversy:
“We hear all this stuff that goes on in Chicago and all these people who die, who lose their lives. All that stuff that’s happening in Chicago is a by-product of housing discrimination. … Housing discrimination is the biggest reason that we can point to historically for why we’ve got all these dead kids in Chicago fighting for turf, fighting for real estate with poor accommodations and facilities and everything that you’re supposed to have in a city, poor education, all of this because the tax dollars and everything else decided to move away.”
“When we start looking at all these people in these lists who are dying as an economic by-product of the people like Donald Sterling and you now have a problem because, oh my God, he said something that intimated that he doesn’t respect his players? I’m calling you out as a fraud.”
There are real victims in the Donald Sterling story, but do not count the First Amendment among them.