Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Justice Was Done Here, but We are Right to Fear the Precedent

Donald Sterling: rich and unattractive (USA Today photo)
Now that Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA, the story should soon recede from the front pages. (But not too far from the front---scandalous updates will continue to pique everyone's interest.)

A few thoughts:

1) Having been on the receiving end of racist comments---though not anywhere nearly as intensely or as frequently as African-Americans---your humble observer long ago learned not to listen to them. I suspect that black NBA players, extraordinarily accomplished and wealthy by any measure, also came to ignore them just to succeed in life. They learned that reacting to racist insults threw them off their game. Much of the "anger" and "outrage" seems forced; these days, however, showing emotion--even emotional infantilism, not maturity--is sometimes necessary to protect one's public image.

2) Old people are proportionately more racist than young people, and I believe that they should be cut a lot of slack for their speech and behavior. They grew up in a time when overt discrimination was part of the warp and woof of daily life. Most of them did change their actions and attitudes. However, mental abilities deteriorate over time, and reversion to childhood attitudes, behaviors, and speech seems to be a common occurrence.

3) Donald Sterling had reprehensible ideas, but he was expressing himself in a private conversation. If the thought police think it's okay to cast out someone because of what he or she said to a lover, a therapist, or a priest, then they'd better have displayed not only blameless behavior but thoughts pure as the driven snow. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
What Donald said was wrong. It was abhorrent. There's no place for racism in the NBA, any business I'm associated with, and I don't want to be associated with people who have that position.

"But at the same time, that's a decision I make. I think you've got to be very, very careful when you start making blanket statements about what people say and think, as opposed to what they do. It's a very, very slippery slope.
The permanent record was a myth, now it's reality.

4) The NBA is a private organization that has a right to set its own rules of association. If an owner, a player, or a coach damaged its public image, it should be allowed great latitude to fix the problem, and the NBA did.

5) In the end justice was done, not least because of Donald Sterling's lifelong record of extreme racism, but we are right to fear the misuse of this episode as a precedent for detecting and punishing future non-criminal behaviors which are not so obviously evil to everyone. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

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