A Sterling Reputation

As noxious as Donald Sterling's words were, his fate gives us pause.

The recent scandal surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was surrounded by so much confusion and contradictory accounts that it's been difficult to form a fair opinion.

For a long while there was doubt whether the recording of racist statements was even his voice, or whether it was some sort of hoax.  At least now that's been laid to rest.  We can justly judge the content of the speaker's character, knowing that the speaker was in fact Mr. Sterling himself.

And it's pretty damning:

It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to? ... I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.

He was talking to his current girlfriend, who is approximately 1/4 his age.  That alone should set off alarm bells, but it's not a crime.  As long as there are rich and powerful old men and young beautiful penniless women, this sort of relationship is bound to occur.

We don't have to like it, though, especially since it gets stranger:

You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want.  The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games.

Since all America is already talking about it, so must we.  What peculiar sort of racist is this who doesn't want his girlfriend to be seen with black people in public, but is OK with her having sex with them on the side?  Did we mention that his girlfriend, whose name seems to change in every report, is herself black?  Why would her sugar daddy be offended by her being seen with other black people, but not merely by being with them, when obviously he himself isn't offended by being seen with her?

It is plain that Mr. Sterling is a) a racist, b) a dirty old man, and c) profoundly illogical.  One can only suppose that he is using his billions to compensate for something as regards his girlfriend.  We certainly won't be inviting him to our parties.

Bill of Rights, Not Obligations

Wait a minute!  Don't we believe in the Bill of Rights?  As much as we despise him and his racist opinions, shouldn't we be defending to the death his right to say them?  Particularly since he said what he said in what he believed to be a private conversation?

Certainly we should, and we are.  Has anyone claimed he has no right to those opinions, or to express them?  Not at all - there's been no midnight knock on his door and won't be.

In fact, His Honor the Mayor of Los Angeles provided a stellar example of how this sort of behavior should be handled.

“I spoke with him a few days ago,” Garcetti told Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an interview that aired on Sunday morning. “Urged him to apologize to my city and our city which he says he loves and to move towards transitioning the team and restoring the luster of a team that has ‘Los Angeles’ on its jersey.”

What didn't the mayor do?  He didn't threaten to use the power of government to force Mr. Sterling or his business out of town as Chicago's Rahn Emanuel tried to do to Chick-fil-A.  He simply named him and shamed him, a right which every American has, including politicians.

We often forget that the Bill of Rights is intended to restrict the government.  The government does not have the authority to restrict your speech, your religion, or to mistreat you based on your personal attributes.

Private individuals, however, don't have to obey the Bill of Rights.  The government cannot arrest a bigot, and you can't either, but you also do not have to do business with him if you don't want to.  That's what a great many Los Angelenos decided was the appropriate treatment of Sterling - they decided to cost him money.  They have a perfect right to decide to have nothing to do with him or his Clippers.

How about the National Basketball Association, which has voted to expel Sterling and is taking steps to force him to sell his team?  Again, the NBA is not the government.  The NBA is a private organization governed by private contracts and agreements.  The contracts which Mr. Sterling signed do indeed grant the league the authority to boot out an owner if enough of the other owners want to.  It's no different from private clubs which are for men only.  The government can't behave in that way but private clubs can.  The NBA is a private club and its members have decided that it's for non-racists only.

Privacy and Peril

So there's nothing to worry about from the sad story of Sterling?  Actually there is: the death of privacy.

This has nothing to do with the law.  California is a state where anyone making sound recordings is required to notify everyone being recorded.  Accounts differ, but apparently Mr. Sterling knew of the recording and still said what he said.  In a sane world, that would be conclusive proof of innocence by reason of insanity.  His girlfriend claims she didn't leak it, so who did?  Would Mr. Sterling do that himself?

Either way, the whole nation is listing to the private rantings of a curmudgeonly old geezer.  Are we all so pure that, in our private moments with our closest friends, family, or lovers, we never say anything that might be offensive to anyone?  Can we truly say with Thomas Jefferson, "There is not a truth existing which I fear... or would wish unknown to the whole world"?

For that matter, have we never said or written anything which might be prone to misinterpretation?  Sterling's racist views seem pretty cut-and-dried, but there are dozens of examples of the media taking statements out of context and making people out to be saying the exact opposite of what they intended.  Do we now live in a world where personal destruction because of an unguarded remark can happen to anyone, at any time, with any conversation, no matter how apparently private?

Here we pass beyond the reach of the law.  Nobody except possibly whomever leaked the tape did anything illegal and the government has rightly done nothing at all.

Instead, we mourn a realm that appears to be dead and buried: the realm of civilized behavior and good taste.  To this day, the New York Times posts on its masthead their longstanding motto "All the News that's Fit to Print."  Note that it doesn't say "All the News," nor "All the News that's Legal to Print."

No: at the time the motto was coined, the editors of the Times understood that there were news events whose publication would violate no law, and yet which weren't fit to print.  Why?  Because they were private and of no legitimate interest save to the prurient.

We've come a long way from the Times' Victorian heyday.  It now makes no pretence of printing news that contradicts its owners' leftist political positions no matter how fit or newsworthy.  But that motto still sits there in open repudiation of a culture that revels in invasions of privacy.

Is Donald Sterling a racist?  Obviously he is.  Or is he, really?  He has no problem paying millions upon millions of dollars to the many black players and other employees involved in the Clippers.

Do they find him offensive?  Maybe so, but clearly not so much so as for them to decline his millions of dollars.  They are not slaves; they have every right to quit or go on strike, and they choose instead to take his money.

That's their choice as free Americans; but the fact that they are so eager to take the Racist Shilling puts his words, no matter how odious, in perspective: they are just words, nothing more.  Remember, Sterling was scheduled to receive an NAACP award for promoting racial harmony until this recording came out.  The NAACP claims to be the final arbiter of what's racist and what's not, and they had no problem with him until five minutes ago.  Maybe his only racist thought is that he doesn't want his black girlfriend to bring black people to basketball games?

If he'd said he wanted to start beating up black people, that would be news, and potentially a crime the government ought to take action against.  But there hasn't been any suggestion of anything like that.  This whole tempest is over mean, illogical, wrongheaded, cruel, racist, politically incorrect words said in private, that's all.

For which Donald Sterling's life and maybe his business have been destroyed.  Maybe he got what he deserved, maybe not.  If so, however, what do you "deserve" that you might suddenly get one day without warning?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
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