Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, you likely heard the story of Donald Sterling–vile racist billionaire NBA franchise owner–versus Adam Silver–white knight commish of the NBA working to free the world from the clutches of tyranny and racial oppression. As usual, the full story is somewhat more complicated. Sterling was a known quantity in the NBA for quite some time (i.e. everyone knew he was a racist, misogynistic jerk), but that never stopped players from playing for him, coaches from coaching for him, or minority women from dating him. As for the commissioner’s office, while Silver is relatively new to his current position, he’s been working for the NBA since 1992 and working directly under prior commissioner David Stern until Stern’s retirement in February of this year. Despite Sterling’s prior transgressions, nothing was done to discipline him within the NBA until this high-publicity event forced the league to take firm and decisive action lest it alienate a large portion of its fan base.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of the market. And we, the people, are the market. Over the past three months, we, the people, have both witnessed and caused the “public execution” of two high profile businessmen. In addition to Donald Sterling, there was also Brendan Eich-now deposed CEO of Mozilla. Simply put, when we, the people, become enraged, the companies and organizations associated with the wrong-doers act. Unlike petitioning our government (which seems to have become increasingly futile over the past decade), our voices are quickly heard and quickly responded to in the market. It is an awesome power.
But with great power comes great responsibility. The more power we have, the more reluctant and circumspect we must be in exercising this power. Were Donald Sterling’s comments ignorant and offensive? Yes. Does Donald Sterling deserve public ridicule? Absolutely. Does Donald Sterling deserve to be stripped of a billion dollar franchise that he has owned and built for 33 years based on these comments? That’s a tougher question, as noted by many columnists, including prominent African-American columnists. As viewed by J.A. Adande, kicking Sterling out of the league made it easier for everyone to avoid harder questions and soul-searching about the problem Sterling represents:
In the process, Silver let everyone off the hook for this episode. Deep inside, that’s what everyone wanted, as much as or even more than punishment for Sterling. The other owners won’t have to explain why they kept him in their midst — or, in some cases, why Sterling had a better record of hiring African-American head coaches and executives than they did. The Clippers players don’t have to explain why they’re still playing for him … or why they ever signed on to do so in the first place. Fans won’t have to rationalize subsidizing Sterling by paying for tickets.
Jason Whitlock noted that Sterling was essentially the victim of privacy invasion and mob-justice, and his ouster wouldn’t do anything to fix the underlying issues that allow racism to persist. Whitlock also noted the possibility of dangerous precedent:
A right to privacy is at the very foundation of American freedoms. It’s a core value. It’s a mistake to undermine a core value because we don’t like the way a billionaire exercises it. What happens when a disgruntled lover gives TMZ a tape of a millionaire athlete expressing a homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-white perspective?
A local African-American radio columnist in L.A., Larry Elder, went so far as saying it “completely unfair” for Sterling to lose his team over this.
Ultimately, as represenatives of “the market,” we need to make sure we are cognizant of the precedent our actions and outrage set. By calling for Sterling’s head based on some backwards and offensive statements he expressed in private, we might be unwittingly creating some precedents that we’d rather not face in future circumstances.