Friday, May 02, 2014

Sterling the Pot

There has been a surprising amount of misinformation cloaked in righteous indignation concerning Donald Sterling, the soon-to-be-ex owner of the L.A. Clippers and what widespread published reports would have you believe is his cruel and unusual punishment for uttering a stunningly inappropriate, racist comment.

The one thing everyone does seem to agree on is that Sterling is a jerk. I don't usually make light of cancer, but reports that this man is suffering from prostate cancer seem rather fitting. After all, consensus is he's a giant inflamed asshole.

But since when is being a jerk illegal? I mean, even if you aspire to be a veritable robford, surely getting fined two and a half large and being banned for life/forced to sell your team is a tad...harsh? And doesn't the U.S. believe in free speech?  There's this thing called the First Amendment, isn't there? This was a private conversation, illegally recorded, we're told. How can you be punished for saying something in private? There have been all sorts of editorials saying, in effect, hey, I'm not a racist, but what happened to Sterling is worse than racism. 

Where to begin. Let's start with the assertion that's correct. Being a jerkwad is perfectly legal in the United States.  Donald Sterling, in uttering his appallingly racist comment, broke no law and faces no legal punishment. He is (for the moment), however, the owner of a National Basketball Association team, and as such, he's the member of a private club and a stakeholder in a very lucrative business partnership. 
That means he's subject to a code of conduct, which he broke in spectacular fashion. If you break the code of conduct of a private institution, it's up to them and them alone what they do with you. The First Amendment doesn't enter into it--that protects you from repercussions from the government, which Sterling is not facing. 

When I was a university student, I signed a code of conduct promising me I'd be expelled for action unbecoming a student of the school I went to--wether that action happened on or off campus, and however it came to their attention. Judging from the asinine behaviour I saw daily from scores of university students, that clause is never enforced. But it's there. I can be fired from my job for saying or doing anything that reflects poorly on my employer. And I'm just a lowly peon. Donald Sterling is the owner of a billion-dollar in a business that happens to employ a great many African-Americans,  and his words have caused an unprecedented amount of horrible publicity. The NBA was perfectly within its rights to ban Sterling for life, and to fine him any amount of money. Forcing him to sell his team is a little more ambiguous, but only in that it requires a vote among the other 29 owners, a vote I expect will be unanimous. Reports are Sterling will then sue...because like the robford he is, he just doesn't get it. 

(In case you're wondering, there will not be a Rob Ford blog forthcoming.)

Now let's dispense with the "private conversation". Between Sterling, who is 80, and "V. Stiviano", his mistress, who's 31. She's gone by at least three aliases. She's fifty years his junior. She's the subject of a lawsuit from Mr. Sterling's wife, alleging he gave her millions of dollars in gifts, including a house and four luxury automobiles. SHE IS THIRTY ONE YEARS OLD AND HE IS EIGHTY. I think the phrase "gold digger" is the general gist here.

"Stiviano" claims, and claims to be able to produce proof of her claim, that Sterling knew he was being recorded. She says she has over a hundred hours of Sterling on record. If this is true, the taped conversation was entirely legal. Fobbing its fruit off on TMZ was kind of a dick move, but ahem SHE IS 31 AND HE IS 80 and somebody here had a serious lapse in judgement, or actually several of them. 

"We've all told questionable jokes and said questionable things", I've heard lately. Yeah, I have too. I'm kind of careful who I say those things to, though, and if any of them come back to bite me, I'll have seriously misjudged a friend. That's the risk you take, and it's a risk Sterling took, and it bit him.  I have zero sympathy.

There ARE a couple of questions I'm left with in the wake of this sordid affair, though. One: how is it that Sterling, who has been a notoriously unrepentant racist for years, has a lifetime achievement award from the N.A.A.C.P.? And two, how is it he was going to receive a second such award next week, until this happened?  


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