Donald Sterling has a right to be racist, even if we hate him for it

By Savannah Marie
@savfmarie
May 7, 2014

By now, you’ve almost definitely heard of the conversation between Donald Sterling and his (interestingly enough) mixed-race girlfriend that contains abhorrently racist remarks by the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Allegedly upset over his girlfriend posting a picture on Instagram of herself with Magic Johnson, Sterling tells her that she shouldn’t broadcast her association with “black people” to the world — and she certainly shouldn’t bring them to his basketball games.

While no one can disagree as to the fact that his comments are completely repulsive, a deeper analysis of the situation certainly raises some interesting questions: Should someone lose their job for something they say in the privacy of their own home? Especially when those statements, however true they are in Sterling’s mind, appear to be the result of coercive tactics?

Sterling’s Checkered Past

A quick glance into Sterling’s background shows that the real estate mogul is no stranger to controversy. The man has a history of treating minorities unfairly as a landlord. He has also done terrible things in his role as owner, from denying an assistant coach coverage for a $70,000 prostate cancer operation, to allegedly refusing to give raises to members of his coaching staff who happened to be black, to refusing to pay the remaining contracted salary of a coach who was fired.

The news that Sterling is an awful man is nothing new. But after this latest revelation, he has been banned for life by the NBA and  many big names — including Johnson and Michael Jordan — have suggested that Sterling be forced to sell his team.

Many agree with Johnson and Jordan. After all, here’s a man who populates his roster with those who have different skin color than him. The same group is responsible for increasing his wealth substantially; the Clippers are in the playoffs, and since he bought them for $12 million in 1981, the team’s worth has exploded to $575 million.

But What About the Implications?

Sterling is currently in the process of suing his former girlfriend for allegedly embezzled more than $1.8 million from him. After being served, the girlfriend allegedly pledged to get back at him. So was the leaked video — which she denies she leaked — just a revenge tactic? She went over to his house armed with a recorder and poked and prodded at him until he uttered the horrible words that were captured on tape, in the privacy of his home, without his knowledge. In my opinion: good for her.

But that’s the issue: While all sane individuals will agree that Sterling’s comments are repulsive, where do you draw the line when it comes to free speech — especially when that speech is made in private, within the confines of your own home? If Sterling were to be forcefully removed from his position as owner, what kinds of implications would such a statement mean in the never-ending battle for the preservation of the right to freely speak?

Sterling’s comments:

Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, raises an interesting point in that vein. Yes, everyone can agree that there is no place for racism in the National Basketball Association—let alone anywhere else, either. But…

“I think you’ve got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do,” Cuban said. “Again, there’s no excuse for his positions. There’s no excuse for what he said. There’s no excuse for anybody to support racism. There’s no place for it in our league, but there’s a very, very, very slippery slope.”

V. Stiviano, Donald Sterling's former girlfriend, is at the center of this scandal. Instagram: @vstviano

V. Stiviano, Donald Sterling’s former girlfriend, is at the center of this scandal. Instagram: @vstviano

What’s Next?

In America, we are all given the right to freely speak about whatever beliefs we may have. Unfortunately, that right comes with a price. The price involves listening to others spill vile and hateful remarks at their leisure while simultaneously having to respect their right to do so. While nobody in their right mind should defend what Sterling said, perhaps we should consider respecting his right to say it.

Rather than forcefully kicking Sterling out of his position, consumers and sponsors can do so with their wallets. By withdrawing support and having fans stop going to the games, Sterling will be forced to consider selling his team thanks to impending economic realities.

While everyone has to agree that what Sterling said was despicable, I’m not so sure we as Americans should embrace a country that would force people to lose their jobs (though it obviously wouldn’t hurt Sterling’s finances) for something they say in the privacy of their own homes. If such comments were made in public, though, this would be a completely different story.

So what do you think? Would forcefully removing Sterling from the ownership of the Clippers set a bad precedent? Should fans and sponsors instead speak with their wallets?

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Posted by on May 7, 2014. Filed under Recent News,Social Justice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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