A controversy has erupted in the NBA over Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling. Sterling, who has a history of racism, was the subject of a leaked audio recording that showed him making racist comments.
To be clear, racism is inexcusable. It is a vile form of collectivist thought that judges people based on a group association, in this case skin color, instead of on their individual merits. Racism is immoral because it refuses to acknowledge a single human being as an individual, but instead as apart of a collective. It further uses this collectivist perspective to discriminate against individuals. This is wrong.
The problem here is whether or not removing Sterling for these comments was the correct course of action.
First, if there was a single member of the NBA who was surprised to hear Sterling is a racist, they clearly haven’t been paying attention. Thus, no matter how deplorable the comments were recently, it comes as no surprise.
Second, the comments were made in a private conversation that was recorded without the knowledge or consent of the recorded party. Sterling’s comments were inexcusable, but is it fair or even legal to use a secret recording of a private conversation as grounds to ban him?
Third, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban does have a point when he expressed concern about a precedent being set. In response, many people attacked Cuban with false accusations of defending Sterling. Like with this article, it is not in defense of Sterling by any stretch of the imagination.
The NBA now has established a precedent where a team owner can be banned for life over speech.
In professional sports, we have violence, cheating, and intimidation, all of which will gain you just a slap on the wrist. But a ban? Good luck.
Will Alex Rodriguez ever be banned for repeatedly cheating by pumping his body full of chemicals to gain an edge? What about Barry Bonds?
Before anyone dismisses that as not a big deal, think about the impact this has on children. The example being set in professional sports is that the only way to be competitive is to break the rules and ruin your health. It’s a vicious cycle that no sport is serious about breaking. Major League Baseball has only begun to take a serious look at it after public pressure has continued to escalate with each major revelation.
But where are the lifetime bans?
Racism is inexcusable. Period. But using a recording of a private conversation that was not consented to is wrong. Before making an emotional response to the situation, the NBA should have investigated the motives of who took the recording and leaked it.
Sterling absolutely should have been disciplined for the comments. But now there is the precedent set where speech can be a lifetime ban by an employer. In the short term, this may appear to be the correct move and it will satisfy those rightfully upset. But given the serious precedent, what will the longterm implications be?