The release of Donald Sterling’s girlfriend’s audio recordings last saturday by TMZ sent the sports world into a frenzy. The words of the LA Clippers owner shocked all ears that heard it as the racist remarks he made were shocking and unheard of in this day and age.
In the recording, Sterling makes several racist comments as his girlfriend and him (both lacking major communication skills) stumble through an argument over her publicly hanging out with “minorities”, posting about it on social networks, and bringing them to Clippers games. Companies sponsoring the Clippers like Red Bull, Virgin America, and KIA rushed to cut ties with the organization. At their game against the Warriors the next day, Clippers players wore their warmup jerseys inside out so that the team’s name could not be seen. Magic Johnson and many other retired players made statements on Twitter regarding the situation, while most current players (excluding Lebron James) refrained from commenting.
On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Sterling would be banned from the NBA for the rest of his life and fined $2.5 million. Players present and past took to Twitter and other forms of social networking to commend Silver for his severe and decisive action.
As I watched the breaking news in my dorm’s lounge, I was not the least bit surprised. Although I hadn’t expected the consequence to be a lifetime ban, it made sense and I approved Silver’s decision. As the news started to become a hotter topic in conversation amongst peers throughout the day, I found that while most people viewed the situation like I did, there were also many who opposed the commissioner’s decision and took Sterling’s side.
At first I was perplexed by this opinion. “You’d have to be a racist yourself to tolerate this type of racism!” I thought. But as I heard it from more and more people, many of whom I respected, the reason for controversy began to make more sense. The aspect of it that seems to bug many people is how the recording was obtained. For many, his girlfriend secretly recording the conversation and stabbing him in the back with it was morally wrong (Though there are some reports that say he knew he was being recorded). People should be able to say whatever they want in their own private spaces, right? How is it fair that Sterling has to face such extreme sanctions because of a few racist remarks he made?
However, those who hold this viewpoint fail to recognize one, extremely important thing about the NBA. It is a business. The decision to ban Sterling from the league was not to seek justice, it was to save the NBA. If the commissioner had resorted to a punishment any less severe, the repercussions for the association would’ve been much more widespread than decreased support for the Clippers’ organization. After Silver’s ruling, the Golden State Warriors claimed that they would’ve walked off the court after tip off if they hadn’t been satisfied with the sanction. It’s very likely that other teams would’ve done the same thing, throwing the whole NBA playoffs out of whack resulting in a loss of millions of dollars for the league. It is hard to estimate the scale of repercussions if Silver had not dealt with the situation the way he did, but I can assure you of one thing. The NBA would’ve lost a lot of money. Instead, they are profiting from the situation as the league’s publicity has spread.
Although the aftermath of Donald Sterling’s tapes being released may not seem fair to some, it makes sense. The sanction put on Sterling did not come from the judicial system, it came from the NBA, an organization seeking to make money, not settle civil rights disputes.
The NBA’s decision to ban Sterling was a smart one and cannot be logically disagreed with. It will be interesting to see how this story continues to unfold in the upcoming days.