Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has become one of the biggest names in national news due to anti-black comments that surfaced nationally last weekend. Sterling's comments have led to the Clipper players staging a personal protest, numerous sponsors separating themselves from the Clippers organization, and discussions about race in America. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has apparently exercised all of his abilities as commissioner by issuing a lifetime ban of Donald Sterling and giving him a maximum $2.5 million fine. Here are some of the lessons that can be learned from this situation:
-LESSON #1: The Donald Sterling situation is not an example of the end of free speech.
-There has been some thought that while Donald Sterling's comments were disgusting, that he has the right to say them and avoid punishment from the NBA due to the freedom of speech given to all American citizens under the U.S. Constitution. However, Sterling's free speech rights have not been violated as a result of his punishment by the NBA. The First Amendment protects American citizens against state oppression or legal sanction for our words. It doesn't entitle people to have the privilege of being a NBA owner, which Sterling currently is. The NBA is a business and what Sterling did and represents is bad for the business for other NBA owners.
-LESSON #2: The Los Angeles Clippers may have a greater sense of American history than most realize.
-The Los Angeles Clippers decided to play against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 last weekend when the news of Sterling's comments created a major media distraction from the team's goal of preparing for the Warriors. After team discussions of a potential boycott, the Clippers decided to play and made symbolic protests before and during the games with their actions. However, there was external pressure for the Clipper players and coaches to boycott the game. Ultimately, the Clippers decision to play was a personal one and a very difficult one.
In fact, the Clippers may have taken an example from the 1968 Summer Olympics in which amateur Black athletes formed the Olympic Project for Human Rights to organize an African American boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. OPHR were very influenced by the Black Freedom struggle. Their goal was nothing less than to expose how the U.S. used Black athletes to project a lie both at home and internationally. There was a possible serious boycott of the Black U.S. Olympic athletes of the 1968 Summer Olympics but ultimately it didn't happen because the U.S. Black Olympic athletes who had trained their whole lives for their Olympic moment understandably did not want to give it up. It is easy for the media or fans to say they should boycott but those people aren't the ones who have the goal of winning a NBA championship and have put blood, sweat, and tears into it.
-LESSON #3: Professional sports owners aren't as powerful as originally thought.
-While issuing Donald Sterling's punishment to the public, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that he will "urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force the sale of the team" and also that he would "do everything in my power to ensure that that happens". This is different from speculation that Silver was limited under the NBA's constitutional bylaws in terms of the ability to force Sterling from owning the Clippers. The NBA can terminate Sterling's franchise ownership and will look to do so even if Sterling prepares to fight for control of his franchise. Time will tell what happens in that power struggle.