I realized that the Donald Sterling controversy was going to be a full-blown ethics train wreck when, as I should have predicted but didn’t, President Obama once again tossed his office, authority and power into a completely non-governmental matter that his involvement could only confound, and can’t possibly help. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” the President responded during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, after being asked about Sterling’s alleged remarks. At least he didn’t say that V. Stiviano, the NBA owner’s mistress who recorded the comments, could have been his daughter.
This continues a pattern, exemplified by the President’s gratuitous statements as the Trayvon Martin case was unfolding, of Obama being willfully ignorant of the injustice done when the President of the United States uses his bullhorn to warp independent investigations before they are complete, and attempts to sway public opinion in matters outside his proper duties. The NBA is currently examining the circumstances of Sterling’s statements, and Obama’s irresponsible interjections can do nothing but upset the process. He simply cannot or will not restrain himself. My view: this stuff is easy, an approximation of being Presidential for a leader who is foundering in dealing with the important, legitimate challenges of his job. It is an expression of weakness.
Meanwhile, it is increasingly likely that, in classic ethics train wreck fashion, everyone connected to and responding to this episode is or will be tainted. Sterling’s girlfriend, for example, broke the law: California is a state like Maryland ( Hello, Linda Tripp, wherever you are!) and others, where it is illegal to record anyone without their consent. Her motives were also despicable: reputedly she had vowed vengeance because Sterling’s wife (oh, yes, her sugar-daddy is still married) has sued her for embezzlement. His wife calls her a gold-digger; perhaps that is unfair, and perhaps she really loves the 80-year-old evident racist for the purity of his soul and vitality in the sack rather than his bank account, just as I may be secretly a bighorn sheep. But the incident roiling the worlds of sports and culture is clearly the product of domestic warfare and at least two thoroughly awful people.
Now the NBA is shocked–shocked!—that Sterling isn’t the salt of the earth. Please. Sterling’s character had been unmasked many times, just not so flashily. He paid a record $2.75 million in settlement of a federal housing discrimination lawsuit alleging that Sterling and his wife made statements “indicating that African-Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants and that they preferred Korean tenants.” He was unsuccessfully sued for wrongful termination by former general manager and permanent African-American Elgin Baylor, who claimed, among other things, that Sterling once said, “I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players,” and testified that Sterling would bring women into the locker room to gaze at his players’ “beautiful black bodies.” These were all just allegations, of course, but NBA owners knew what the man was like, and willfully let him be a member of their club. Now, he’s suddenly not an appropriate face for a sport dominated by African-Americans; on Sterling’s own team, the Clippers, there isn’t a single white player. His was never an appropriate face; his face wouldn’t be an appropriate face for a Girl Scout troop, a school board or any other organization that placed ethical values over money.
Next up in the train wreck, the NAACP, which is scheduled to honor Sterling next month, presumably for race-based philanthropy and thus what he has done, rather than what he thinks. I’m sure that honor will soon be denied, but should it be? As I pointed out in the previous post on Sterling, what matters in ethics are actions, not thoughts. I would guess that Jimmy Carter was our first non-racist President; should we blow up Mount Rushmore? One of the most important aspects of the new ethics train wreck is the proliferation of statements like this one, by Washington Post sportswriter Jason Reid:
“Any person who holds the views expressed by the male voice on the tape should not continue to reap financial reward from an industry whose workforce is overwhelmingly African-American.”
Wrong. This is America, and he can hold any views he chooses. Sterling built the Clippers, and invested in the team that makes millionaires out of black athletes. As long as his “views” don’t harm the team, the league or his employees, they are neither unethical nor disqualifying. It is the communication of those views and the dissemination of them that disqualify him, just as the Gallaudet diversity officer was disqualified by the revelation that she opposed same-sex marriage.
This provides the opening for the false analogizers to board the train.
“Right now, many are demanding Sterling be sanctioned, many more want him to be forced to sell the Clippers,” writes David Badish. “But shouldn’t Andrew Sullivan, Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, Tony Perkins, AEI fellow Charles Murray, Legal Insurrection blogger William A. Jacobson, former GOP chair Ken Mehlman, Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh, Slate’s Will Saletan, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, among many others, voice support for Sterling? Shouldn’t they be rushing to his defense? They all certainly were defending Brendan Eich just a few weeks ago.”
As was I. That is because…
- Nothing Eich had said or done indicated unequivocal bias against gays.
- His contribution to the anti-gay marriage forces in California occurred six years ago, in the midst of a massive cultural upheaval, and was not necessarily reflective of his current beliefs.
- Opposition to same-sex marriage, while misguided, can be attributed to religious belief and support for the traditions of marriage, and does not require or suggest homophobia and bigotry.
- The boycott of his company proposed by OKCupid was justified as punishment and revenge.
- Had Eich ever been shown to have uttered derogatory statements about gays equivalent to the statements attributed to Sterling regarding blacks, the analogy would be valid. He has not.
And then there is this, from rapper Snoop Dogg, who calls Sterling a “bitch-ass redneck, white bread, chicken s**t mother f***er.” Yes, the best way to condemn racists and condemn racism is by using racist epithets.
The news media has just gotten started, but it will be boarding this train wreck soon, if it hasn’t already. I turned off “Meet the Press” when the first guest commentator introduced to opine on this issue was …Al Sharpton.