Ethics Hero: NBA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (And Yes, I Mean It)

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

The other shoe dropped, and however it may be intended, it’s an ethical shoe. Donald Sterling now says that he’ll refuse to pay the 2.5 million dollar fine levied on him by NBA Commissioner Silver and his fellow owners for what he said in his own bedroom.

Good. I was waiting for this, and hoping that would be his course of action. Ironically, a good, compliant, progressive billionaire, and one who was not, unlike Sterling, a repulsive asshole, who was nationally embarrassed as Sterling has been, would crawl quietly into a hole, periodically send out big checks and mea culpas to Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP, and in the process, take  big, bloody chunks out of our freedom to think and speak freely, and our personal privacy. Sterling is doing the right thing, although it is going to cause him to be even more vilified by the media and even more assailed as the personification of racism than he has been already—and that has already been disproportionate to his “crime.”

Fighting is also going to be expensive. Never mind. It is revolting to write it, or even think it, but he is fighting for all of us.

The reason is simple, and the logic is irrefutable. Nobody, anywhere, in a free country, should be fined $2,500,000 dollars for what they say in the presumed privacy of their own bedroom, in their own home. Nobody. Ever. No matter how awful and ugly they are, and no matter how horrible their sentiment of the moment. It doesn’t matter if an American says that he or she worships Adolf Hitler, hopes the United States is over-run by Chinese guerrillas, believes homosexuals should have to wear pink armbands in the street, craves the sexual congress of Jon and Kate’s Eight, fantasizes about boiling puppies, believes slavery should be re-instated and would  pay money to watch Barack Obama shoved into in a wood-chipper. If these are thoughts expressed only to those who are trusted, and reserved for private expression only in the sanctity of the home, monetary fines by anyone, or any organization, are abusive and unreasonable, not just as a matter of law (yes, I think the fine will be found excessive, though it will cost Sterling and the NBA far more than the fine to get a judge to say so) but as a matter of ethics. Nobody should be fined for thoughts, however vicious, ignorant or unpleasant.

The NBA, in punishing Sterling, was grandstanding, and playing to the mob. Every commentator and blogger was trying to top the other by declaring how, no, he was the one most sickened by Sterling’s comments. Every conceivable negative description were applied to them, even ones that clearly didn’t apply ( his comments were not “defamatory,” for example, as I heard more than one lawyer claim on camera), so Silver thought he had to prove that the NBA really, really really thought what Sterling said was disgusting, so on top of banning Sterling from the NBA, added the huge fine, like a decorative cherry.

Sterling can afford it like I can afford a hamburger; that’s not the point. Foolish UCLA returned more than that to him already by rejecting Sterling’s donation to kidney disease research (because we all know sick people would rather die than be saved by the money of a purported racist), and that’s not the point either. I don’t care what Sterling signed, and it doesn’t matter what he said. No citizen in the United States of American should be fined for what he says or does in his bedroom if it breaks no laws, and a growing number of badly educated and self-righteous censors need to be reminded of that principle.

Sterling should agree to sell his team in the best interests of the league, but absolutely refuse to pay any fine. Of the two, the latter is by far the more important to our culture.

As horrible as it is for us to have to rely on such a scuzzy champion, Sterling is fighting for our freedom. For that, and nothing else, we owe him our respect and gratitude.

[ Other Ethics Alarms commentary on the Sterling Ethics Train Wreck can be found here, here, here, here and here.]

 

38 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: NBA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (And Yes, I Mean It)

  1. Yes: You are consistent with what you say in your previous post about the school board president who was overheard in public referring to one of the students’ parents as chubby-wubby.
    (Honestly: I intended no sarcasm there – none.)

      • I intend what I said. A person should be accountable for his speech in a public forum, even if public broadcast of that speech is accidental. A person should not be accountable for his speech “as if it’s public” in a circumstance where he should have reasonable expectation that his speech is (and will remain) private or confidential.

        Jack, I pray some things out loud in private that I imagine neither you nor my enemies would ever want to overhear – or be told about by some eavesdropper or gold-digging ambush- and personal-destruction-plotter.

        • Why not? Why is this fine different from fines that have been levied on other owners, coaches, and players?

          Isn’t this just the naked teacher principle, but with words, instead of pictures?

          • See later comment, on the same rotten analogy. Sterling isn’t being fired; they are taking his team away from him. No past fine of any owners, coaches, and players has been for a private comment with a reasonable expectation of privacy. None have been for 2.5 million either. Could the NBA have fined him say, a billion dollars for what he said to his bimbo? why not, if this stands?

            • 2.5 million is the maximum allowed. Other large fines have been in the hundreds of thousands. I don’t see the dollar amount as being an issue.

              Also, there have been fines for comments that were not intended to be private. Kobe Bryant was fined 6 figures for a slur that was not uncommonly said by players on the court. His problem? A tv mic picked it up.

              • There is no expectation of privacy on a basketball court, on TV, with thousands watching in the same room. No court would suggest such a thing, just as there is no expectation of privacy on a city street.

    • They can deduct the fine from any TV revenues due to the team. Of course, he will fight that course of action, as he should.

    • 1984 was about secrecy and surveillance states manipulating public knowledge. Reporting things accurately to the public is a step AGAINST 1984.

  2. “Sterling can afford it like I can afford a hamburger; that’s not the point. Foolish UCLA returned more than that to him already by rejecting Sterling’s donation to kidney disease research (because we all know sick people would rather die than be saved by the money of a purported racist), and that’s not the point either.” The NBA claimed the fine money would be given to assorted groups doing good works. But, if UCLA has defined the moral high ground (and no, they haven’t, but this is conjecture, so let’s accept it and see where it takes us), then it stands to reason that no person or group should take that tainted money, thus rendering the fine irrelevant. Or am I missing something?

  3. I hope Sterling fights back and fights hard and serves the NBA’s sanctimonious response down the NBA’s throat! The NBA is acting as judge, jury, and executioner. It didn’t even give him the slightest investigation. They fell all over themselves trying to outdo each other in the moral high ground department. Apparently, asserts that Article 13(d) of the constitution, which provides for the termination of an owner’s franchise should ownership fail to “fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any other third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.” That seems pretty ambiguous. What is a ‘failure to fulfill its contractual obligations’ mean? Did he pay his franchise fees/expenses? What does ‘in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely’ mean? Does that mean that, because sponsors pulled there advertising dollars the NBA has suffered a harm? What about now that the Clippers are in the playoffs and the team is significantly more valuable? How can the NBA prove damage to its reputation?

    Silver overplayed his hand. He had to send a strong message that bad behavior won’t be tolerated. Ok. What behavior? How about the Housing fines Sterling through his company(ies) had to pay for not renting to Latinos or African-Americans? Why didn’t that bring discredit on the NBA? Sterling’s conduct didn’t get him into to trouble. His private thoughts and words did, all said to his ‘archivist’ arising out of an argument because he didn’t want her to bring her other ‘gentlemen callers’ around to basketball games where Sterling would look bad. THAT is worthy of a life-time ban, a $2.5 million dollar fine and a forced sale of his team? Really? Charles Barkley should be bounced off ESPN for insulting big-ass women in San Antonio, which was made PUBLICLY, ON AIR for all the world that cares about what Charles Barkley said to hear.

    • This is what comes of believing that the self-censoring, homogenous, ideologically monolithic media accurately reflects the nation’s values. Since literally no one was articulately making the ethical argument that punishing private thoughts illegally recorded and published was a dangerous slope to play on, Silver played to what he thought was the mob.

        • Totally incomprehensible comment, and invalid as a 3 dollar bill. The logical analogy would be a teacher whose nudity in her own bedroom was put on the internet after being captured by a secret client, and the NTP would NOT apply there. Or, from teh other side, Sterling making racist comments on his Facebook page.

          How is my opinion, supporting that victim of the mob, playing to the mob?

          • The NTP, in your own words:

            This is because, you see, the Naked Teacher Principle does not take into consideration why the teacher’s nude and luscious bod is suddenly a feast for prying young eyes and stimulus for newly minted libidos. It doesn’t matter, to the school, the students or their parents. What matters is that the photos exist, they got out, and he or she will never be looked at or thought about the same way again.

            That was a case where the teacher’s pictures were stolen and published without her permission.

            That’s exactly where Sterling is. It doesn’t matter why Sterling’s words are suddenly a feast for prying ears. It doesn’t matter, to the NBA, the players or their fans. What matters is that the words exist, they got out, and he will never be looked at or thought about the same way again.

            My comment about playing to the mob was intended to say that, if fining Sterling is playing to the mob, then saying teachers should be fired in the NTP is also playing to the mob. If your logic holds here, then your prior statements on the other side of the argument need to be brought up.

            • But she posed the pictures, and not just for herself. There is an easy way to avoid having naked photos published. There is no easy way to have your private thoughts made public.

              And while I do think most of the time the teachers should be fired, that’s not the principle. The principle is that they have no cause for complaint, having made the image, if they are fired.

              Actually, the “mob’ doesn’t comprehend why students shouldn’t see their teachers naked.

              • I don’t see any material difference between “Don’t say racist things” and “Don’t allow your racist rants to be taped.” In both cases, you should be okay. It’s only in the violation of trust that things get out. And you’ve already said that it doesn’t matter how or why the things get out. It only matters that they do.

                By your logic here, if a secretly recorded video of a teacher got out, the NTP would not apply. Your reasoning in the NTP though, has always been that even private things that have been made public invoke the principle. How would the video being shot secretly change what the children, parents, and teachers see, think, and feel? It wouldn’t. If a secret recording doesn’t trigger the NTP, then why would leaking a private recording set it off? You’re not slut shaming teachers for private videos, are you?

                The NTP may be unfair to teachers, but it was what was right to do. As you said, it doesn’t matter how the kids got access to the naked pictures. What was seen, could not be unseen. Your comments about Kobe Bryant’s slur fine follow this same line of thinking. Bryant didn’t think his comment was going to be broadcast, but it was. The fine was unfair to Bryant, but necessary by the NBA. Why isn’t this the same case? Unfair but necessary?

                • What??? I don’t see any material difference between “Don’t say racist things” and “Don’t allow your racist rants to be taped.”
                  How about “say whatever the hell you want to to whoever you want to in private conversations in your own home”? Your position posits permanent speech limits 24-7, wherever we are. Utterly un-American, coercive, totalitarian in effect and in compete contravention of the spirit of all our Founding documents. Bottom line: Sterling DID nothing wrong, whatsoever, and we should not be intimidated into conforming to any societal norms, edicts, traditions, conventional wisdom or political correctness in our private discussions. Any other position violates basic respect for human autonomy and fairness.

                  • Your position posits permanent speech limits 24-7, wherever we are. Utterly un-American, coercive, totalitarian in effect and in compete contravention of the spirit of all our Founding documents.

                    My position suggests no such thing. I do not want legally enforced speech limits. What I do want is freedom of association. Your position, that we need to ignore Sterling’s comments, is the problem.

                    My point in the statement was that a privately taped racist rant is equivalent to a privately said racist rant. Both are private. A tape being leaked is just like a live mic picking up a comment that was never meant to be said. You’re claiming that if you think your spoken words are private, then they should be protected from backlash. I’m saying that, logically, if you think your tape is private, it should be protected the same as your untaped words. Private is private, right?

                    As you have said with the NTP, private doesn’t matter. Now you seem to be creating 2 classes of private, and giving one of them privacy rights, but denying those rights to the other. I can’t get around this.

                    Replying to below:

                    The fines of Sterling and Bryant were neither fair nor necessary. The NTP, when it is properly applied, is sometimes unfair, but usually necessary.

                    You’ve changed your position now? Here’s what you said before about the Bryant fine:

                    “Was it appropriate for the NBA to fine Bryant? Yes. The NBA is in the image business, and Bryant is a top star; it can’t have its stars being broadcast making anti-gay slurs. The fine is necessary to make a statement that league does not tolerate homophobia…whether or not any homophobia was really in evidence.”

                    Bolding is mine; the entire paragraph on appropriateness and necessity is included for context.

  4. This article is right on all this fuss about what a goofy old guy said in private is phony I bet all the clipper players along with doc rivers will be back next year no matter who owns the team the main reason I say this is MONEY

  5. If the government were fining Sterling, I’d be with you, but the NBA is a private organization. They have rights as incorporated and as individuals the same as Sterling does. If they don’t want him any more and if his words, whatever their origin, can be punished under their bylaws, then they have every right to do it. Moreover, they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to do so as well as a social responsibility. The information is out there; you can’t put the cat back into the bag.

    You seem to be arguing that people have the right to muzzle people that they confide in. That’s bullshit. There are expectations of trust in relationships, but they pretty much all have limits.

    You also seem to be arguing that we should pretend we don’t know about private conduct after it becomes more public. That’s even more bullshit. There are important reasons to restrict the law from being able to use private conduct against someone, but they don’t apply to the population at large.

    I mentioned it in comments above, but I’m going to reiterate it: this is the naked teacher principle. The populace saw a naked, racist Donald Sterling, and the NBA had to deal with it. Is it unfair to Sterling? It doesn’t matter; it’s what the NBA has to do.

    • People have a right to trust people to be fair, and that’s not bullshit. Sure, anyone I say anything to that wouldn’t play well to the world in general can be leaked, and its despicable to do it, just as “kissing and telling” is. Surely by this time you know the difference between what people have a right to do, and what is still unethical conduct. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with saying anything in private–anything. Whether its the government listening in or someone else—it’s just as wrong.

      I wrote, in the initial post, that Sterling had to leave the NBA as a matter of business necessity, because, as you say, the cat’s out of the bag. Applauding him being fined and losing property because of a private statement, however, is hostile to free speech. It endorses thought-crime. He DID nothing racist (it’s not even conclusive that what he was saying was racist.)

      That’s not the Naked Teacher Principle. The Racist Sterlin Principle would read:

      “The Principle states that Donald Sterling (or other NBA owner) who allows his racially offensive comments to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing him have expressed racist sentiments, cannot complain when he or she is removed by the league as a result.”

      He didn’t allow it. That’s a material element. The only way he could have prevented it is never to speak about the topic in his bedroom.

      • People have a right to trust people to be fair, and that’s not bullshit. Sure, anyone I say anything to that wouldn’t play well to the world in general can be leaked, and its despicable to do it, just as “kissing and telling” is.

        The second statement doesn’t follow from the first. Being fair does not mean never talking.

        Surely by this time you know the difference between what people have a right to do, and what is still unethical conduct.

        I don’t believe I confused the two.

        There is nothing whatsoever wrong with saying anything in private–anything. Whether its the government listening in or someone else—it’s just as wrong.

        If you mean “secretly listening”, then I agree. Of course, this doesn’t impact anything I said. It also doesn’t apply to the situation at hand, as there was no secret listening.

        I wrote, in the initial post, that Sterling had to leave the NBA as a matter of business necessity, because, as you say, the cat’s out of the bag. Applauding him being fined and losing property because of a private statement, however, is hostile to free speech. It endorses thought-crime. He DID nothing racist (it’s not even conclusive that what he was saying was racist.)

        First, he did do something racist. He attacked his girlfriend for bringing a black guy to a basketball game. Second, this is NOT a free speech issue. He is NOT being fined by the government. He’s being fined by an organization who’s bylaws, including fines, he agreed to. You are, again, showing inconsistency. Here’s something you said about fining Bryant for calling a ref a faggot:

        “Was it appropriate for the NBA to fine Bryant? Yes. The NBA is in the image business, and Bryant is a top star; it can’t have its stars being broadcast making anti-gay slurs. The fine is necessary to make a statement that league does not tolerate homophobia…whether or not any homophobia was really in evidence.”

        You also note that trash talk is constant. The only difference in that case is that it was accidentally broadcast. You were true to the NTP then, why not now?

        He didn’t allow it. That’s a material element. The only way he could have prevented it is never to speak about the topic in his bedroom.

        As noted above, consent of dissemination is not part of your NTP. Moreover, it’s specifically declaimed as a factor. I argued against you originally, and eventually you convinced me. Now you’ve done a complete 180. I don’t get it.

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