The Sterling Incident

By now I’m sure we all know that LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape chastising his trophy girlfriend for posting pictures of herself with famous black athletes – and forbidding her from bringing them to games. His racist rants have just earned him a lifetime ban from all things NBA and rumors that the NBA board will force him to sell the team.

There’s a lot of emotions revolving around this. I have friends who are thrilled that Sterling is getting his comeuppance. I have others who don’t care. Still others are upset that his privacy was violated and that he’s being punished for views he expressed in the privacy of his own home.

Let’s take a look at what happened.

Donald Sterling has a girlfriend, known only as V. Stiviano. Yeah, he’s married, but he keeps this trophy who is at least half a century his junior because he likes to have a pretty girl on his arm, right? In 2006, the Department of Justice (the BUSH DOJ, no less) brought him up on charges of discriminating against certain races in renting out apartments in his properties around the LA area. In 2009 he was sued by a coach when he remarked that he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.” So really, it was no surprise that Sterling was a fuming racist. Sterling’s wife sued Stiviano for fraud, and Stiviano had vowed that she would get even – and she did. The day he got mad at her and started flipping out over pictures of her with Magic Johnson, she recorded him.

A few days ago, her tapes were published by gossip site TMZ.

Now, all of a sudden, they’re willing to do something. He’s been outed two previous times as a racist, but NOW they’re going to do something, now that Magic Johnson is involved. It rings rather hollow that it’s taken this long, but it’s done. Sterling is banned. Something about this made it worse than the previous incidents and now he’s toast.

Here’s where I tell you what I think.

The First Amendment protects us from the government – not from private entities. I can’t say it enough because people somehow get it in their heads that the First Amendment is there to protect us from employers, too (and stores, restaurants, etc.). Let me say it again: the First Amendment is there to protect us from the government. The government had no hand in this, so the Constitutional rights argument holds no water.

That said, does Sterling have a right to expect a certain amount of privacy in his own home? Of course he does. I have friends who are upset that his career is being ruined over personal beliefs voiced in his private home. Okay…is this really the first time any of us has heard of a jilted lover ruining their sugar daddy with something like this? This story is just about the oldest in creation. Creepy rich guy has a wife. Wife isn’t young and pretty anymore. Creepy rich guy buys a girlfriend and publicly shames wife. Wife gets mad and tries to get back at trophy skank of a girlfriend. Trophy skank vows revenge. Trophy skank does something to publicly humiliate lover and shamed wife. Is this really new? Do we not watch plotlines like this in the shows and movies that we watch – and then cheer the skank?

Folks, being banned from the NBA isn’t going to ruin Sterling’s finances. He should have been banned after the first incident, when he was caught saying out loud that he refused to rent to Latinos because they “drink and smoke and hang around the place” and refused to rent to blacks because “they smell and attract vermin.” That should have been enough, but somehow, it wasn’t. And it’s not like it wasn’t highly publicized and talked about.

Sterling is really only getting what people have wanted for several years. Yes, he has a right to free speech – but we as equal citizens have the same right to tell him we aren’t willing to do business with him. The NBA now has an obligation to react to this. This is the third incident in which he has been proven to be a blathering racist, and if they allow him to continue showing up and sitting in his courtside seats, the NBA stands to lose a lot of money when people stop coming to games and buying their merchandise. They are moving to save their image. Donald Sterling dug his own grave here. He deserves exactly what’s happening.

(None of this, BTW, is to mention the fact that rap stars who use racist and homophobic slurs in their work haven’t been banned. In that sense it does, yet again, ring slightly hollow.)