Am I the only one who sees the irony in Jewish attorney Donald Sterling, owner of the the Los Angeles Clippers, and Jewish attorney Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association being destined to collide as they have in the recent brouhaha over Sterling’s racist comments? Sterling-Silver? Get it?
Sterling silver has value. But there’s little value in the recent event that shares their names. There’s enough fool’s gold to spread around on both sides.
Sterling made private, idiotic comments to his girlfriend that were recorded. A firestorm erupted (typically 10 days later America has moved on and there’s nary a flicker) when his interpreted as racist comments were released by a website. Sterling admitted making the comments. NBA Commissioner Silver banned NBA franchise owner Sterling from professional basketball for life, fined him $2.5 million dollars and has threatened to force him to sell his property: the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.
We put too much emphasis on talk. While a man’s talk is important, his “walk” should define him. In Sterling’s case, though, both his talk and his walk have led many to think of him as a very flawed man — even a racist — albeit a very rich man. The recording made of Sterling’s comments he thought were part of a private conversation, combined with his reputation for racism, became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
I don’t know and have never met Donald Sterling. I can’t know, therefore, anything about him except for what I read. And since I don’t believe everything I read, I have to take what I do read and hear on the radio and see on TV and the internet with a big grain of salt. Nonetheless, Sterling does seem to be one of those people who can buy anything he wants — except class and self-respect.
Regardless of Sterling’s moronic comments, if we’re fair we must ask the question if Sterling had made similar private comments but about whites instead of blacks would the reaction have been the same? If he had told his girlfriend not to be seen with whites or Orientals or Indians or Christians or Jews or other women or homosexuals, would Silver’s reaction and that of the press, the NBA owners and players and other critics have been the same?
No way. The NBA consists of a majority of black players.
Admittedly, Sterling doesn’t present a very empathetic figure. He’s easy to dislike, a classless, 80 year-old billionaire with a bad reputation who left his wife to cavort with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, showering her with expensive gifts. His feet probably smell, too.
It is just this kind of disagreeable individual with disagreeable thoughts and comments we all should be wary of pillorying so completely for private comments that it results in a loss of his property. Yes Sterling presented himself as a tempting target — a bright, red bull’s-eye painted square in the middle of his forehead of his own accord.
But few have delayed their criticism of Sterling and praise of Silver to contemplate the danger to our way of life that could come from taking his property for his private talk — his thoughts really — rather than for his walk or his actions.
What would prevent other opinions — some equally as moronic as Sterling’s — from being also targeted?
Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Mavericks, was among the few to initially question the wisdom of taking Sterling’s property for what amounts to his stupidity. “In this country,” Cuban said, “people are allowed to be morons. They’re allowed to be stupid. They’re allowed to think idiotic thoughts.
“But regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that,” he said.
Somebody was thinking, at least initially. Cuban unfortunately went on to agree with Silver’s heavy-handed and unfair reaction to Sterling’s private comments.
Yet, there may actually be a silver lining to this cloud formed by Sterling’s folly and Silver’s overreaction. I hope it guides us through a national conversation about thoughts, private speech, property, and ultimately our freedom. Taking property — even by private organizations — for private comments erodes our freedom.
While Holocaust survivor and fellow Jew Leon Shagrin might not want his name associated with Sterling, I think what Shagrin said about his life applies to the Sterling-Silver controversy. Shagrin said, “What I want you to take away from my life story is just how important it is to defend your freedom, at all costs.”
This includes the costs of stupid comments by ignorant people like Sterling.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.