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Donald Sterling - Tarnishing Only Himself

Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise, may not be a nice guy. Seems he is a narcissistic, cantankerous, lecherous, Neanderthal, blowhole, obsequious weasel of a racist, but as of yet, the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States still applies to him.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is oft-attributed to Voltaire. In fact, what he wrote to someone named M. le Riche in 1770 was “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write,” share the same sentiment.

Ironically, Voltaire was deemed an anti-Semite, but that may be more to the point. The answer to hate speech is not less speech, but more speech. And while folks may not like or agree with Sterling’s words or attitudes, his right to disseminate them remains intact, provided he is not calling for violence (shouting fire in a crowded theater).

The knee-jerk liberal, politically correct, hand-wringing, righteous indignation piling on demanding that Sterling be flogged, have his tongue removed, have his team taken from him, be fined, be banned from not just the NBA, but the planet, is far too over the top. While Sterling’s words are hateful and hurtful, they are not against the law.

The crux of Sterling’s most recent alleged remarks was that he told his girlfriend in a private, yet recorded conversation, not to bring her black friends to his games or to promote her relationships with them on social media. And this is not Sterling’s first ride on the racial bus having been accused of, and paid fines for, discriminating against blacks and Hispanics regarding fair housing practices in 2006.

Believe it or not, something Barack Obama said over the weekend resonated with me, and for those who read me with any regularity, I know you are shocked.

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” said Obama, a master at taking his own advice.

Obama’s words make sense, and quite frankly should be all that is necessary. Let Sterling’s words speak for themselves and people will opine with their wallets. Will season ticket sales rise or fall due to his words? Will sale of Clippers merchandise rise or fall due to his words? Will advertisers clip the Clippers due to his words? This should be self-correcting – not mandated by outside forces such as the race hustlers.

Perhaps all the players on his team will seek to leave the Clippers and play elsewhere – that is there choice – if they can find a loophole in their contract. The players are just as entitled to offer their opinions, as they did prior to Sunday’s game by dumping their warm-up jackets to reveal tee-shirts turned inside out hiding the Clippers’ logo.

Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said he would not attend another Clippers game as long as Sterling is the owner – he is speaking with his wallet and there are many who admire Johnson and will follow suit.

The words from two USA Today sports writers also kicked in with their indignation calling for Sterling’s banishment, but they are both wrong on several levels.

Nancy Armour prefers to put the cart before the horse, shoot first and ask questions later, if at all in her screed “Easy Decision: Ban Sterling.” (April 27, 2014) She called out new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver saying he failed his first big test by not suspending Sterling.

Silver correctly said that “all members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy.”

Armour continued her cart-horse assassination of Sterling writing that there are no “sides” to this, and that “Silver should ban him from the NBA immediately. And permanently.” Should that disqualify anyone from a team ownership because they might have a distasteful opinion according to what is popular or politically correct?

Sam Amick went farther than Armour in his “NBA Must Stand Firm,” by dragging Sterling’s wife into the mix. “…the wife of the shamed Sterling, Shelly, made the inane and insensitive choice to not only attend the game but sit in her standard seats – directly across from the team on which 12 of 14 players are African American.” (April 28, 2014) As is head coach Doc Rivers.

What does Shelly Sterling have to do with this? The allegedly offensive remarks were not even made to her, but instead to Donald Sterling’s girlfriend – who happens to be a minority. The salacious simply increases the story’s sleaze factor, as Amick went on to describe Shelly Sterling’s game day wardrobe, including interpreting what it might mean.

Amick further wrote that “…Sterling simply must get the message that he is no longer wanted in these parts.”

Other Hall of Famers such as Michael Jordan, current owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, and Charles Barkley, now an NBA TV analyst, both weighed in, not surprisingly, calling for Sterling’s permanent ouster from the fraternity of team owners. So too did Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, a former Clippers General Manager, who called the environment of the team a “plantation mentality.”

If Armour, Amick, the host of NBA players past and present, and Obama are entitled to their opinions, why isn’t Sterling – as controversial as they may be?

But remember, Sterling pays his players, coaches, and staff – they are not volunteers, indentured servants, or slaves. He wants a winning team. A winning team sells more merchandise and puts more tuchuses in the seats buying overpriced food and beverages. Let the chips fall where they may through natural progression – perhaps all advertisers will take their business elsewhere – Los Angeles is a big city with other sports teams – even within the Staples Center.

Bottom line is, Donald Sterling owns the Los Angeles Clippers, and the league cannot take that away from him without violating his rights. They may try, and the legal skirmish will no doubt be as ugly as Sterling’s opinions, but that is the price paid for living in a reasonably free society. In fact, Sterling is the longest tenured owner having purchased the team in 1981.

While this is not much ado about nothing, more is being made of it than ought to be as this story is dominating the news cycle when there are bigger fish to fry. The death of veterans waiting to receive medical care is an outrage of epic proportions. Benghazi, the IRS scandal, poisonous food being imported from China, the Ukraine, as well as Holocaust Remembrance Week are all infinitely more important from the perspective of societal ills and national disgraces.

Donald Sterling may be a 14 karat schmuck, but the First Amendment still protects his right to be so and Barack Obama’s words should be heard, reminding people that Sterling’s words should speak for themselves. Any calls to strip Sterling of his team and deny him his livelihood are simply un-American, going beyond what even George Orwell could have imagined.