I was quite gratified as I was listening in the car on April 29th to Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, as he announced the punitive measures against Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was recorded making bizarre and racist comments. I know there are those who argue that Sterling was taped in a private moment revealing private thoughts and that if we were all subject to such scrutiny, most of us would find ourselves in some sort of trouble at one time or another. That may be so. However, I believe such a heavy punishment was levied upon Sterling because of a pattern of behavior over many years.
We can point to hypocrisy on the part of the NBA and others in business with him over the last decades who did not do anything until their hands were forced, but at least something very clear and strong was done now. I very pleased that punishment was so swift and so complete.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Sterling’s comments were about gays instead of blacks. What if Neil Patrick Harris or Elton John had been sitting with Sterling’s “companion” rather than Magic Johnson? What if he was taped saying that while he didn’t mind her hanging out with them in private, he was not comfortable with her sitting with gays at his games and he didn’t want her to advertise her relationship with them on Instagram? What would the reaction of the NBA have been in that case? I’d like to believe that there would be some outrage, particularly if an epithet referring to gays was used (though, fortunately, he apparently did not use an epithet in referring to blacks). A fine might have been levied. But my guess is that would be about it. There would have been no lifetime ban from the game and no one would have forced him to sell the team. The players would not have provided a uniform voice and front in condemning him, though I imagine some would have spoken out.
Now, I can understand the argument that there are a greater proportion of black basketball players than those of any other race. The basketball players union came together as a force to pressure Adam Silver into this action. Further, there are a great number of basketball fans who are black. So from a business point of view, many believe Silver had to do what he did. But that’s not what he talked about in his press conference.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful….Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.”
His was an argument of morality, not business. Of inclusion and respect, not financial concerns. So while I applaud him and the likely step the owners will take in forcing Sterling to sell the team, I do think it’s worthwhile to take a moment of reflection and consider whether the response would have been the same if Sterling’s “deeply offensive and harmful” sentiments had referred to the LGBTQ community.