Donald Sterling and What is Wrong With America.
There is so much about all of this that can and needs to be said. However, I want to preface this by saying that I don’t give a hoot about basketball. Nothing that you are about to read is even slightly tainted by “but itz da Clips!”
The first thing to be noted is that all “decent” people should be horrified by what Sterling allegedly said. From what I’ve seen, almost all of the decent people are. But there is something else to this… the reaction society has had to what was a private conversation.
Newsflash: There are no good guys here — only severely broken ones.
Donald Sterling: life long Democrat, multi-millionaire who has given large sums of money to develop the inner city of LA and is one of the largest landowners in Beverly Hills (in fact, he was in line to receive the NAACP’s Lifetime Achievement award before this storm). As an 80-year-old, he will have thought patterns and a social conscience that predates both the Civil Rights movement and most of the race riots — as evidenced by the several instances of litigation he has been named as the defendant in because of discrimination in his business practices. In other words, it shouldn’t shock anybody that he said some dumb stuff in private.
The Girlfriend: there has to be some amount of personal issues if a 31 year old woman is “dating” an 80-year-old millionaire. Based on the way the leaked conversation went, it’s clear to this observer that the relationship (at a minimum) was emotionally abusive. Oh, and she claims that she didn’t leak the conversation… and then the press traced the leak back to her.
The rest of us: Where to start here… I think I have to pick on Magic Johnson. After the story broke, Magic went on ESPN to declare that he was never going to go to another Clippers game ever. You don’t have to be a Poly-Sci major to realize that giving someone exactly what they want isn’t necessarily the best way to get back at them. That aside, the prevailing attitude of “agree with me or else” is very disappointing to see. Throw that one in the bin with all the people clamoring for Sterling to be ousted as the owner of LA Clippers, and it seems to me that there is something desperately missing here…
Newsflash: Beyond being “mean”, there isn’t anything morally or legally wrong with what Sterling said.
This is the part that is going to cause the most rancor. Constitutionally speaking, Donald Sterling has every right to say every word that has been ascribed to him. Since it was a private conversation anyway, there isn’t a single thing the law can do about it. If you look at the transcript, Sterling didn’t say that he hated black people, that he wanted to murder black people, or that black people shouldn’t be allowed to watch basketball games — only that he didn’t want his image/reputation associated with (through his “girlfriend”) black people. Both freedom of speech and freedom of association are Constitutionally protected rights. Compare that with Oprah saying on her television program that all white people are racists “deep down”, and I have to wonder what the justification is for this public castration of Donald Sterling… to the point that people want the NBA to take his franchise away or at least force him to sell it.
For those of us who have a bit of a memory, this is very similar to the situation that Major League Baseball faced with Marge Schott and the Cincinnati Reds. Unless the NBA has some kind of morality clause where owners can be removed if they damage the image or credibility of the sport, I don’t see anything that the NBA can really do. The commissioner will probably suspend Sterling “indefinitely” (read: at least until the playoffs are over), but I doubt the league will do anything more important until they can bury it in the offseason.
But what worries me is the apparent lack of ability that Americans seem to have to just ignore an idiot. Maybe I’m just too much of a mercenary for my own good, but I’ll put up with a lot if the compensation is good — ask me about my time working for a Christian Bookstore if you doubt it. The biggest difference between Marge Schott and Donald Sterling is that Marge Schott won a World Series before allegations of racial prejudice started showing up — Sterling has not brought home the NBA title. Both owners took over teams that had been fairly obscure and built league powerhouses with an influx of new cash. Both built very successful teams on the backs of players who were of the race that they harbored prejudice against. It would appear that the moral of the story is that people will forgive you your misdeeds if you have been successful… but will bury you alive if you haven’t.
When we were all kids, we all heard the saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Obviously, we all know that that phrase is generally incorrect, but there is an incredible amount of value to being able to simply shrug off that which is no more than rattling air. Take a look at Europe where Italy’s first black MP was called a “festering chimp” on the parliament floor or foreign soccer players can receive so much verbal abuse in ninety minutes that they have emotional breakdowns on the sideline. One man saying that he doesn’t want to be associated with a certain group of people shouldn’t be the earth shattering event that this is turning into.
I understand that we don’t want to give allowance to racism. I understand that people need to be accountable for things that they say (ie, that 14 year old girl in the Netherlands who got arrested for “Joke-threatening” American Airlines on Twitter — totally reasonable). But if we really believe and have value in the freedom of speech, we have to be ready for the possibility that someone is going to say something at some point that we find highly offensive, distasteful, hurtful or ignorant. When that happens, we can make a choice to take it personally or simply write it off as someone being out of touch and get on with life. For some reason, it appears that the American public has completely lost the ability and/or desire to simply write someone off as being out of touch. I would love to live life without ever being offended by another human being too… but I also know that that is functionally impossible.
Can you imagine how different America would be if we could simply tolerate opinions we disagreed with? Or, better yet, if we spent more time on how to react properly to people being offensive than we do on actively being offended? Admittedly, this post is starting to wander from the core point, but if I had to sum it up quickly, it would be this: America, stop being so thin skinned. If every idiot can elicit a reaction this explosive, you are going to spend a lot of your life on being hot under the collar.
That’s my take, anyway…