Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sterling & Silver

The following is a piece I submitted to the Boston Herald several weeks ago. Since I say I submitted it, rather than they published it, you know what they thought of it. The general point of it still sticks in my craw, however, so I decided I'd spit it up here.

Before I do, though, I'd like to be sure you know that I don't think of you as just an audience for my rejects. I love you, and think highly of you, because you were here before my meteoric rise to journalistic fame and fortune.

(And you don't deserve sarcasm, either, so I apologize for that. I've been blessed with what I've accomplished so far and you've been a big part of that. I thank you.)

Anyway, here's some second-rate stuff. If you end up with the same opinion as my editors at the Herald, I won't scream and cuss.


Can we agree on one concrete reality? Donald Sterling is a jerk. Now let's talk theory.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who fined Sterling the $2.5 million maximum and banned him from the league for life, did pretty much what he had to do given the evidence, right? In a league where African-Americans comprise some 80% of the players, as well as about half of coaches, Silver had little choice but to hand out the most draconian punishment at his disposal. Doing otherwise would have led to league-wide player discontent, even the possibility of a wildcat strike destroying the current playoffs and costing the league hundreds of times what Sterling had to pay. There would have been an avalanche of bad publicity, from which the league might never have recovered. The message to the sporting public, as well as the world at-large (the NBA is very much the most global of our major North American sports), would have been one that said, in effect, the players are chattel; extremely well-paid, to be sure, but still working under executives whose opinions and actions are not far-removed from the plantation. Any black man who chose to take the court, if less punishment had been meted out, would probably have been seen, by his peers, as a coward and a sell-out.

Probably all true, but here's another scenario. I'm not saying it's what I would have done if I wore Silver's shoes, but it's interesting to consider.

What if Adam Silver issued a statement to this effect: “While we, as a league, deplore Donald Sterling's overtly racist comments, and we feel he should be condemned for such, there is a greater principle at stake here. One of the foundations of our American way of life is freedom of speech; the freedom to speak one's mind. Even if the words spoken are patently offensive to the majority, we hold sacrosanct the right of our citizens to speak such words. While all in an official capacity with the NBA would prefer that Mr. Sterling not speak such ugly and reprehensible words, we feel it is not in the best interests of society as a whole to make censorship our official business policy. Therefore, while we want it known, without equivocation, that we condemn such sentiments, and feel that the expression of same are a sure sign of little or no moral compass, we feel it is more important, in the long run, to support the greater underlying principle of free speech.”

Is it realistic to have expected such from Mr. Silver? Of course not. Given his fiduciary responsibilities – and, to give him an easy benefit of the doubt, his own good moral compass – he said, and did, exactly what we should have expected (and, I think, what most of us would have done.) I'm not arguing that Silver was wrong. I'm just saying it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had he decided to defend a principle instead of his principal. Is it too much to believe that some people in far-flung despotic nations might have taken notice and understood we truly believe in one of the major freedoms we espouse? Maybe. But, as much as I understand and appreciate what Silver did, and as much as I deplore what Sterling said, the experiment would have been interesting.
And that's that. Feel free to tell me I'm an idiot, if you so desire.
Soon, with more better stuff (in all likelihood.)



Sandy Kessler said...

My question is freedom of speech say what you will within reason but the media uproars are killing me

CLR said...

Not an idiot at all. I didn't follow the story closely (How could I? The myriad of stories/scandals is getting so deep, I can't keep up.) but enough to have an opinion.

My take on the whole thing: I agree with you on this - I think a stronger statement SHOULD have been to uphold the ideal of freedom of speech. I honestly do not think we actually operate under this ideal to it's fullest original intent anymore. Too many people get 'offended'. Who can even know what exactly is deemed offensive and not at this point anymore.

The case as it unfolded sent a very clear message - say something someone else doesn't like? You risk losing everything. That is a dangerous precedent to set forth.

Do I agree with Sterling? 110% absolutely NOT. But I am also adult enough and cognizant enough to consider the source and to also recognize that those statements were made in a PRIVATE CONVERSATION with his girlfriend (that she happened to record...). He was not making them to his team or any other public arena that I am aware. Should there have been some sort of disciplinary action? Possibly to send a clear message that those sentiments aren't representative of the collective whole, but to ban him for life?

I don't know. Just my two cents. I don't share them often. But there you have it.

joeh said...

Excellent post, probably too political incorrectly controversial for the newspaper.

It is of course not politically incorrect at all (as if that is a crime) but if glossed over, ignant peoples may be upset...can't have that now can we?

Craig said...

Bless yer libertarian soul, Jim. Not stupid in the least.

Actually, the most insightful commentary I've heard on the whole Affaire d'Sterling was from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, which shares some touchpoints with yours. . .

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

I'm cancelling my subscription...

uh, wait... I don't have a subscription.

Maybe if you sold more ads for them, the paper would have room for all of your columns?

Basically, it really sticks in my craw that a private conversation between a silly man and his paramour became headlines.

The only folks who have benefited from the entire event are attorneys and, maybe, some media scavengers.

Buck said...

What all those above me said.

Jackie said...

The Herald missed a golden opportunity.
I'm sure the comments on your article would have ranged from hither to yon. And isn't that the whole idea of freedom of speech...and freedom of the press?
I imagine your column with this article being published would have garnished a lot of readership and publicity.
The Herald dropped the ball on this one.
Well said, my friend. Well said.

messymimi said...

Very intelligent take on the situation, and i wish it were possible to do it that way. Too many people would simply say he's caving to the rich bigot, and not believe he's making a good point.

Michelle H. said...

I "kind of" followed the whole Sterling/Silver/NBA punishment thing. And while I agree there is freedom of speech involved, one thing to keep in mind is that Sterling was telling his girlfriend not to post pictures of herself with black people on her Facebook page. So the question really is, should freedom of speech supersede another person's moral freedoms?

She had the right to post whatever she wanted on her page. He made it into a racial situation -- and he didn't have to because she also has freedoms and rights that do not threaten or harm other people.

Suldog said...

No doubt, Michelle. She had every right to do whatever she wanted, and there certainly shouldn't have been any chastising of her for such an innocent act. Still, I think that's a separate issue. I mean, just about everything we hear about the guy makes him sound reprehensible, but that's exactly what the free speech thing is in place for, to protect the rights of those the majority do not agree with.

Thanks for your take on this. I was actually thinking of you a fair amount of the time while I wrote it. I don't know that it made a difference in what I wrote, but if you picture it like one of those cartoons showing a guy with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other,you were one of them :-)

Shammickite said...

No matter what is said for or against this, or who says it, racism still lives. And this whole stupid thing makes me very sad. That man is a silly man to hold such opinions, and the girlfriend is just as stupid to make the opinions public, and the media is even worse to make such a fuss.

Michelle H. said...

Of course, I never agreed that what she did was right either. It seemed too planned out -- like she knew he would get angry and say something because he had said it before. Nobody simply goes, "I think I'll tape-record my conversations today for the Hell of it."

I also wondered if there was something else going on. Don't want to seem like the "conspiracy theorist" here, but it all just happened too quickly and too pat for my tastes. Like people were sick of him around so they made him walk into a trap he couldn't get out of. Makes for a good book plot.

P.S.-- thanks for comparing me to the angel/devil conscience image. Yet I could never liked holding that pitchfork and wearing those red horns. Also, that pointed tail made it rough sitting anywhere. :)

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I think your view here is spot on. It seems that the First Amendment and today's culture of "over sharing" will constantly be a topic for debate.

I said something a bit different when the scandal erupted here:

Babs said...

For a moment I thought we were talking about Aunt Sally's Silver. jk

I didn't follow any of that, but what it breathes is the lack of freedom of speech, which is the reason why your piece wasn't picked.
The media is so dang slanted, people are afraid of stepping on toes, due to being so politically correct.
Know one is perfect, and there is prejudice of all types in this world and to deny it is way too ostrich like. If someone does something offensive and they are of color, you have to be darn careful, is that freedom? …

Well anyway, keep writing and don't change a thing.. you're articles are being read, and I would wager a guess that some newspaper readers have probably made their way to your blog page. I'm back :)

Maggie May said...

While I'm absolutely for freedom of speech...... I do think we should restrain ourselves from being offensive and racist.
Do unto others as you would be done by is a good rule of thumb. In this case, say unto others......

However, I haven't read any articles about it so I might not know what I'm talking about. I'm speaking in general here.

And what about that fellow who bit another player on the shoulder? What is wrong with people today? Put sport back into sport, I say.
Maggie x

Nuts in May

Hilary said...

What is it that American's freedom of speech ensures? I was quite possibly erroneously under the impression that it would protect from government interference. And since the NBA doesn't represent government, I see them as having every right (and reason) to act as they did. Many damaging things can be said under the guise of opinion.

That being said, it was a fine piece with a point of view (albeit not necessarily your own) rarely shared. I think the Herald should have gone with it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.