I need to talk about Clippers Owner Donald Sterling. To briefly summarize, Sterling was “bothered” that ex girlfriend Vivian Stiviano wanted to broadcast that she was associated with black people and told her so after seeing a photo of her and Magic Johnson on Instagram. She is of mixed race, but Sterling believes she can pass for white and that she shouldn’t associate with black people, nor should she bring them to games. He said these and other racially insensitive words in private, but they were recorded and released to the public. This has resulted in NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banning Sterling from the NBA for life, fining him $2.5 million, and urging the other team owners to vote to force Sterling to sell the team. All because of some silly and stupid remarks Sterling made in private.
Donald Sterling is a royal idiot. There’s no denying that. He’s a racist, an ignorant man, and probably a pain in the ass to be around. What he said was nothing short of moronic and I hope he feels like the complete jackass that he is. As a person of mixed race, I have very little tolerance for this type of attitude and it sickens me that there are still millions of people out there who think less of others simply because of their skin tone or country or origin. I’ve been face to face with the KKK and it scared the hell out of me. I’ve been discriminated against countless times because I’m not light enough or dark enough for certain people. It never stops hurting and I never stop hoping for change. But one important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that ignorant minds will not be changed if our only counter attack is telling them they’re wrong, to shut up, and then yelling at and/or penalizing them when they refuse.
The lesson I’ve learned from Sterling’s story is not that racism is wrong, it’s that opinions should be kept to yourselves if they aren’t socially acceptable to share. For him to be banned for life from the NBA for something he said in private is a very scary thing. I don’t condone what he said in any way, nor do I support the man, but I’m afraid of this road we’ve begun traveling down. Something you say in confidence and in private to another person who has nothing to do with your business should not be able to go on to destroy your business and effectively remove you from it. If my boss heard some of the nonsense I talk about with my husband in our home, he’d probably think I was crazy. But my private conversations with my husband have nothing to do with my job. Me putting “Fuck Whitey” on my public Facebook page is very different from me saying it to my husband at home. I should be free to say what I wish in personal and private settings. (and no, I’ve never said Fuck Whitey)
The idea that this type of punishment for having an opinion is not only possible, but praised, is not something we should be happy about. If I want to dislike black people due to some internal struggle or personal experience, I get to do that. I get to tell my husband about it, I get to discourage him from having black friends, and I get to complain to my heart’s content. I commit no crime by having an opinion and voicing that opinion in private. I understand the frustration felt by the people who must associate with Sterling, and they have a right to be angry about the ridiculous things he said. What needs to be understood is that their right to be angry is just as important as his right to be a moron.
I feel as though Sterling’s punishment was made due to the strong emotional reaction that came after the recording was released. It should have been made based on the offense; proper punishment that would fit the crime. Instead, we get something that is more about appeasing the people who were hurt by the words of a tired old man. There is no doubt that something should have happened to properly show support to the fans and players while condemning Sterling for what he believes, but this ban and fine seem crazy to me. Had he said this at a game, I’d totally understand. Had he said it to a player, I’d also get it. But as it is, I’m simply unable to accept it as a proper punishment.
I don’t think Sterling would have felt so much heat from his words if he had made a remark that insulted a smaller group, one that does not make up a large part of the players and fans. Because he hit a nerve with so many people, this has blown up and gotten out of control. Take your feelings out of this for a moment and think logically. Keeping in mind the exact remarks made, should anyone be punished this severely for a private conversation of this nature held with someone they trust? I’ve had family members say worse things to me about certain races and who I should date. It’s never acceptable to say, it’s certainly a terribly old-fashioned and ignorant way to think, but the opinion and the words were not a crime. Saying “don’t bring black people to my games” is equally as wrong on a moral standpoint as saying “keep n—–s away from my games, or else.” But legally, only one of those statements is wrong due to it sounding like a threat, while the other statement is simply a rude suggestion.
While I am glad that Sterling has been pushed out so that the players and fans can move forward, I worry immensely about what this decision means for the future. If a player casually sends a text to a family member expressing his discomfort about having a gay teammate in the locker room, does he get fired as well? If a coach makes an ill-timed joke to a friend about white players being awful at certain plays, should he get fired? Do we fire refs for calling fouls on certain players because we discover they have no Instagram photos of them with a certain race? Where do we draw the line now that it has been erased? We just witnessed a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million dollar fine handed out to someone who privately told his ex to stop bringing black people to basketball games, and more punishment is likely on the way. Am I the only one who is looking past the racist old man and looking at the fact that we just basically told the world that privacy and discretion don’t mean a damn thing if we don’t agree with what you say?