The NBA is moving swiftly to purge itself of one single racist in the name of Donald Sterling but it has not been a haven for angels. Rather, it has a healthy assortment of miscreants. Let’s recall the overt racist and film director Spike Lee who receives a check from SiriusXM NBA Radio. Lee said he disapproves of interracial couples and wants whites to keep out of historically black New York neighborhoods. He’s a segregationist but remains in the league’s good graces courtside at every Knicks game. Rapper Jay Z, while a co-owner of the Nets, held fan parties for “blacks only” and has publicly supported the views of the “5%er Nation,” a radical group that hates whites. And now Mavericks owner Mark Cuban steps into Sterling’s racial fray with references to blacks in hoodies requiring his immediate apology to the family of Trayvon Martin. Since the league has not penalized these NBA insiders, I suspect the league may have an inconsistent standard to say the least.
In light of these facts, the idea the NBA must now take a high road and eradicate racism from its ownership on Sterling’s back is a joke.
In any event, the nation is all abuzz over the racially insensitive rant of Clippers owner Donald Sterling who unwittingly gave a gift to the race hustlers of America when his mistress, V. Stiviano, uncovered his recorded remarks about her relationship with blacks and with basketball legend Magic Johnson in particular.
Sterling’s comments were racially insensitive and plantation owner-like, and with his history of racial bias as a real estate titan against blacks and Latinos, he is now a bull’s eye upon which society will target him as the poster child for the stubborn stain of racism.
Few will argue that racism is acceptable in this post-racial society led by the first black president. The better question is how to respond to it when it rears its ugly head in a free market context?
In this instance, Sterling is an owner of an NBA team, a private business (which is private property), governed by the rules of a private association. NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, prompted by race hustlers and angry past and current players and sponsors, condemned Sterling and his views; in so doing, he sentenced him to a life ban from the team and sport and levied a $2.5 million fine. The commissioner’s conclusion was that “Sterling violated league rules through his expression of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league.” Silver is now driving the train to force Sterling to sell the team (private property) over the recording. Sterling now attempts to dodge an involuntary sale of the team by giving his wife Shelley majority control; she is rumored to favor a voluntary sale that she controls. Notwithstanding that Sterling keeps opening his mouth to prove himself a complete idiot, the commissioner, along with the voting ownership, is wrong to force an involuntary sale.
The NBA’s constitution grants Silver wide latitude to punish behavior deemed “prejudicial” or “detrimental” to the league. It also allows for fines and indefinite suspensions as imposed here. I take issue with the league’s hypocritical and extreme response but it seems within their legal right. A private association has the right to regulate its member’s behavior. On the other hand, ripping the team from Sterling’s hands is another matter. The league should not force an owner to sell simply because it does not agree with an owner’s viewpoint. Disclaimers and public statements condemning the viewpoint sufficiently distance the league, if necessary. I fear that an owner who may hold a controversial view, like traditional marriage as between one man and one woman, like Richard DeVos of the Orlando Magic, is the next to be forced to sell. The league should tread lightly on this slippery slope.
In America, the free market works. In this context, the fans, the season ticket holders, free agency, and the sponsors should have been allowed to put Sterling to pasture. The league should not impose its own bias on an owner’s personal views resulting in the loss of private property, no matter how reprehensible the league deems the views to be. That’s the consumer’s prerogative in a free market. Once we condone the stripping away of private property (which is the bed rock of a free society) by public opinion, the society is lost forever. The right to retain one’s private property must be protected at all costs. And while we’re at it, let’s oppose all racism no matter the color of the racist.
Marc Little is the author of The Prodigal Republican: Faith and Politics. His web site is The Prodigal Republican.
Photo credit: lymbzero (Flickr Commons)