So by now, even the least sports-educated of Americans knows the name Donald Sterling. It’s the sort of thing that plugged-in, twentysomethings like myself get asked about by their parents when they call home. Who is this guy? What did he do that’s so bad? Why is everybody so upset?
A run-down: he’s the current (soon to be former, perhaps) owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a basketball team that until relatively recently was the laughingstock of the LA sports scene. Most recently, he chastised his girlfriend via telephone about hanging out with black celebrities at Clippers games because it “made him look bad”, but that’s not the only questionable feather in the Donald’s cap. Why is everybody so upset? That gets a little more complicated.
First of all, this isn’t the first time Sterling has come under fire for racially motivated shenanigans. He began his career as a divorce and personal injury attorney in Los Angeles back in the 1960s, and from there moved into real estate, where he made the bulk of his fortune before purchasing the San Diego Clippers in 1981 (for the paltry sum of $12.5 million). It was in real estate that he first revealed his bigoted nature, when he was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for housing discrimination in 2006. Among other choice tidbits, Sterling refused to rent to Blacks and Hispanics in certain neighborhoods, claiming that the former “smell[ed]” and “attract[ed] vermin.” Sterling was also sued for employment discrimination on the basis of age and race by former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor in 2009.
While neither of these incidents prompted quite as much outrage as Sterling’s recorded telephone call (which, if I’m being perfectly honest, seems relatively tame in comparison to his previous comments), it’s not my place to speculate as to the motivations behind Sterling’s ousting. A broken clock is right twice a day, after all, and the one undeniable takeaway from all this is that Donald Sterling is a disgusting bigot that no one should shed tears over.
Yet certain individuals and outlets, most of them conservative and right-wing in nature, are crying foul over this whole thing. The common argument suggests that policing what amounts to being racist in your own home could have a snowball effect and lead to other private affairs being turned into bootable offenses. That’s the battle cry of the most restrained and logical of the dissenting folks, at least. The more unhinged and loud are screaming about freedom of speech and saying that people in this country are allowed to say anything they want, decrying Sterling’s lifetime ban and probable forced sale of the team as a liberal conspiracy.
The grand irony is that the entire Sterling fiasco is a pure and unfettered example of free-market capitalism, which supposedly makes conservatives wet with excitement and red-white-and-blue warm fuzzies. It seems obvious when written here, but neither the federal government nor any court of law has been involved with this case. The National Basketball Association is a league composed of private owners who make decisions that are in the best interest of their business, which is running basketball teams. Equally obvious: it’s bad for a league that is dominated by players of color (83%, as of 2011) to continue to tacitly approve of racism.
Whether or not the crusade against Sterling is motivated by something besides pure business sense or a repudiation of racism is besides the point, and may never be known. What everyone needs to realize is that Donald Sterling is not on trial. He is not being pressured out by the federal government, by activists, by politicians, or by liberals. He’s being ejected from a league that has a vested and justifiable interest in doing so, and the right needs to recognize the difference between public and private action.