I’m a fierce defender of free speech rights for a number of reasons, one of which because I am part of political and social traditions which, in many ways still face persecution today, so I tend to be sensitive to even the slightest threats of censorship. Say all the racist things you want; I think “no platforming” is terrible for free speech not simply because silencing people is terrible for learning and dialogue, but because it also denies the listener the right to hear the speaker and form their own opinion on it. The NBA nonetheless made the right call.
I’ve been in situations to observe folks who are comfortable enough with each other to make certain jokes or trade certain words folks wouldn’t normally with strangers because that’s how they are with each other. I’m not interested in policing barracks, or locker room talk or the interpersonal relationships of friends, but let’s not pretend that’s all that happened here. What happened was that public figure who owns a professional sports team, comprised mostly of Black players, in one of the largest cities in the U.S., got caught saying that Black people (like the ones who make him tons of money) aren’t fit to be in the company of himself or his (ironically) Black/Hispanic biracial girlfriend. This should be problematic for every obvious reason.
If he owned a team called the LA Klansmen in some third rate semi-pro league which tolerates it, he would be free to drop racial slurs as many times as the day is long and we have the right to form and voice our own opinions on that. But in the NBA, many folks have been growing tired of Donald Sterling for years, this was simply the last inch of rope that pulled the noose taut on his involvement in the league.
Whatever you think of sports, (and I love me some football #GoTexans) as long as the Clippers are a franchise of the National Basketball Association and enjoys its privileges, the NBA, (though I’d also argue that the players and residents of Los Angeles have this right) do not have to allow that man or anyone else who does what he did to be the public face of professional basketball in LA.
Fortunately the NBA has a process to remedy this and did exactly that.
Photo: Longtime Clippers owner Donald Sterling, shown in 2010, has been banned by the NBA. Mark J. Terrill/AP