It’s a big day for the NBA today, as commissioner Adam Silver gets prepared to address the Donald Sterling controversy at 2 PM ET. I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t heard by now, but Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is under heavy fire for racist comments that were caught on tape, and the Silver is facing a huge outcry to do something about it.
I’m sure most people are generally aware of the controversy, but it needs to be underscored just how vile Sterling’s comments were—he was apparently telling his girlfriend not to bring African-Americans to games or even to associate with them, a “ban” he extended to Magic Johnson.
I know that we live in an age where people often try to whip up race hatred based on harmless remarks, or falsely attribute racial animosity to certain political leanings. The result has to been, in more politically conservative communities, to create skepticism about racial charges, even when racism’s real ugly face shows itself. It’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” phenomena.
While I probably don’t meet the strict philosophical criteria of a conservative—I’m more of a Reagan Democrat—I would be in the group of people who would normally be skeptical. But knowing the actual comments Sterling made, knowing how bad his track record is—the Justice Department of George W. Bush sued him for racial discrimination in housing—there is just no question that in this case, the wolf is really at the door.
Furthermore, we should have no qualms about a heavy push to force Sterling to sell the team. An NBA franchise is not a business that can operate in a vacuum. It’s more like buying a McDonald’s franchise—what you do affects the good name of every other McDonald’s, and so while the business is your property, there is a responsibility to your fellow owners not to besmirch the good name of the franchise.
Sterling has clearly besmirched the good name of the NBA in African-American communities. I’m not sure what legal recourse the league has, but they should fire every gun they have legally, and more importantly, there should be such enormous public pressure brought down on Sterling, that he is left with no choice but to sell.
This is hardly a violation of Sterling’s First Amendment Rights—in a league where even the Milwaukee Bucks sold for $550 million earlier this month, Sterling—who has owned the Clippers for forty years and presumably bought the team for a song—is going to make a gigantic profit. If this is having your rights violated, let me have some of that action.
The NBA simply can’t afford to have an owner like this in the league, even separate from the clear moral implications. Yesterday, on Pardon The Interruption, African-American commentator Michael Wilbon said that in the black community, the NBA is second “only to the Church” when it comes to cultural influence as an institution. Just from a business standpoint, doesn’t a league have to be mindful of its customer base?
Sterling has to go. It’s probably easier said than done, but it has to happen. This isn’t some left-wing organization trying to raise money by whipping up racial animosity. This is the real thing, and needs to be responded to across the political and cultural spectrum.