The Herald Bulletin
---- — Then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous quote explains that freedom of speech does not include the right to yell fire in a crowded theater falsely and risk causing a riot.
The same principle holds for inciting virtually an entire nation with a racial diatribe, though in this case, that audacity risks peer pressure instead of government intervention.
Thus Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling finds himself persona non grata in the National Basketball Association. His crime? Castigating his girlfriend, known by the name V. Stiviano (parlance of another era would refer to her as his mistress), for appearing with basketball legend Magic Johnson at a Clippers game. He said in effect he didn’t care if she slept with black men but not to bring them to his games. (It should be noted that Stiviano herself is of mixed black and Mexican descent.) He didn’t use the n-word, but you get the idea.
As it happened, Stiviano recorded their conversation, she claims with his knowledge and consent. Thus its leaking should have been no surprise.
When she challenged his stance, Sterling said he pays, feeds and clothes his players in a league where nearly everyone on the court is African-American. He might as well have said he owns a stable of trained monkeys he expects to perform for an all-white audience.
Needless to say, the monkey droppings hit the fan. Sponsors couldn’t jump ship fast enough. The Los Angeles Chapter of the NAACP was left with egg on its face as it rescinded a SECOND lifetime achievement award for Sterling, who has a history of racist acts and remarks as long as his list of buy-off benevolences. And the NBA’s brand-new commissioner imposed the toughest penalty he could on the Clippers owner, including a lifetime ban from attending any NBA game or function (at 80 with reported health concerns, this may not be that long), a $2.5 million fine and a recommendation that owners force him to sell the team.
Of course, peddling a half-billion-dollar NBA franchise involves more than putting it on eBay. That’s if Sterling is even willing to sell – and he carries a long-held reputation as a recalcitrant rich guy with a history of being willing to go to court at the drop of a hat. If his fellow owners (I use the term fellow loosely) can twist his arm to divest himself of his albatross, I expect there are prospective buyers in the wings. Among others, the names of Oprah Winfrey and Johnson himself have been floated.
Institutional racism, once rampant in this country, is increasingly moribund. But characters like these, who perpetuate an I’m-better-than-you mentality, try their best to keep it out of the grave.
In any case, Sterling has no one to blame but himself. He ends up looking like the spoiled rich kid he is while having no clue as to what is really important in society.
Jim Bailey’s column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.