What The Hell Are You Talking About With All This Donald Sterling Stuff, Tim Cowlishaw?
Dear Tim Cowlishaw,
We'll dispense with the usual pleasantries and get right to it: You did an abysmal job of trying to find nuance where there wasn't any in the Donald Sterling situation this week.
We're embarrassed for you — and more than a little upset that your comments are the ones people might see as representing our fair city.
In your own very special way, you tried to explain to all of us why we were so wrong to quickly and wholeheartedly agree with the righteous action undertaken against Sterling by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Sure, you agreed that Sterling's reprehensible, irredeemable comments were, yes, both reprehensible and irredeemable, but then you proceeded to blather on and on about how the penalties administered — a lifetime ban from the NBA, a $2.5 million fine and the potential forced sale of the team — were somehow inappropriate, whether it was because they were administered too late or because they represented some kind of bullshit “slippery slope” towards the revocation of NBA owners precious free market rights.
Mr. Cowlishaw, you informed your readers that: “My preference would have been an indefinite suspension from the NBA. Take a less strident stand, given that no crime was committed here (the league never cared about Sterling's real crimes), and let the free market render the suspension permanent.”
The principles of the free market that you are trying so ham-fistedly to stick up for are exactly what allowed Silver to do what he did and what will allow the league's owners to dump Sterling out on his ass. Each NBA owner owns an NBA franchise, just like it might a Whataburger or an In-N-Out or whatever. The league has every right to revoke that franchise. This isn't like European soccer, where the clubs join together in leagues to have consistent competition. No, just as it is in every other major American sports league, the NBA itself is the entity; teams are simply local outlets. In much the same way that McDonald's can get rid of a franchisee if she refuses to sell Big Macs any more, the NBA can force an owner out if he violates the league's bylaws or constitution.
It's that simple.
According to Article 13(a) of the most recent league constitution: “The Membership of a Member or the interest of any Owner may be terminated by a vote of three fourths of the Board of Governors if the Member or Owner should do or suffer any of the following: (a) Willfully violate any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association.”
Sterling has no more right to a guaranteed slice of the NBA pie than I do at this point now that he's activated the clause for “misconduct of persons other than players.”
Meanwhile, comparing depriving someone of their right to operate an NBA franchise — for what is expected to be a windfall of at least $500 million in the bank for Sterling — to property being stripped from someone illegally and arbitrarily is a false equivalency. Franchises in any of the big four leagues are prestige baubles for the super wealthy, not a means of livelihood for their holders. Just as the NBA conferred that prestige on Sterling when it allowed him to buy the franchise, it has the right to strip it from him.
Additionally, even if the NBA somehow retroactively took your advice, there is no guarantee that Sterling would ever sell the team. We'd even go so far as to say that it's more than unlikely that he would. He's shown himself to be, among many other things, both intractable and an idiot — just the sort who would keep the team as a “fuck you” to the community, to the Clippers' employees and to the world at large.
In the course of your argument, you also bring up Sterling's massive settlements of multiple housing discrimination cases: “Those lawsuits represent the real damage Sterling has brought to society, not the stupid comments he made about minorities in general and, specifically, his players on a tape recording with his girlfriend.”
While we couldn't agree more, we can't for the life of us figure out what that has to do with anything. Yes, Sterling should have been kicked out of the league when his housing discrimination came to light — or when it came out that he'd asked coaching candidate Rollie Massimino “why [he] thought he could coach these n——” or when he told Elgin Baylor that he wanted a “Southern Plantation type structure” for the Clippers, or, really, at any time since he bought the team — but that in no way means he shouldn't be kicked out now. The right thing is happening. Just because it didn't in the past doesn't make it any less right.
Now here's the crazy part: We still haven't even gotten to the most specious part of your argument, where you present the idea that, because Sterling's privacy rights might have been violated, his actions should maybe be dealt with differently.
Excuse the block quote, but we'd like to go after this point by point:
“It's easy for everyone to come out against the kind of racist attitude that Sterling conveyed. What if it's something less hateful but still unpopular? What if it's someone delivering an off-color or sexist joke, then having to defend that it was merely a joke and not a true reflection of his feelings?
You can love the fact that the Clippers will have new ownership, someone more credible, less hateful and undoubtedly more determined to win a championship. But if you love the manner in which Sterling’s smoking gun was discovered, then you can't really complain about credit card companies or Facebook or the NSA or anyone else that invades your privacy, can you?”
Ugh. Where to even begin with this shit.
First off, it isn't clear at all that the person who made the recording, V. Stiviano, violated Sterling's privacy. According to her attorney, Stiviano recorded many conversations with Sterling at his request, something that wouldn't be much of a shock considering his advanced age and apparent incoherence.
But hey, let's give you the benefit that she did do this without his knowledge or permission, which would indeed be illegal in a two-party consent state like California. Still: None of this has anything to do with state or federal governments. Sterling isn't being charged with anything, so it's impossible that his First or Fourth amendment rights are being violated. Just as A&E had the right to suspend the Duck Dynasty bigot for the gross stuff he said, the NBA has every right to execute provisions of an agreement Sterling was a willing party to — no matter how it gets his information.
Your contention about things that are merely “unpopular” or “off-color” or “sexist,” meanwhile? I can't believe you actually thought we would buy that one. There is an enormous gulf between what Sterling said and it merely being unpopular. Saying The Big Bang Theory is better than Community is something that might be unpopular. But I think we're all capable of separating that from venomous, racist statements. As for the rest of it: If an owner makes an abhorrently sexist comment, he should indeed get the same penalty, and we don't see why it should matter at all whether it is a joke or not. People who are willing to tell jokes that are actually racist, sexist or bigoted — rather than jokes that subtly or otherwise critique racism, sexism or bigotry — are probably racist, sexist or a bigot. They have the right to exist and not be thrown in jail just as much as we do, sure. But it's probably in the best interest of both the league and society as a whole that they don't serve as representatives for a team or city.
Look: We get that you might be upset that Silver's swift, thorough action might have cut off your initial think-piece idea for this mess at the knees. But we really wish you hadn't subjected us to this.
You're better than this. We're better than this. A good thing happened.
Stephen Young and the rest of Central Track staff