Earlier this week Adam Silver dropped the full weight of his NBA-commissioner hammer down on Don Sterling for the hateful, racist comments he made in what Sterling most likely thought was a private spat with his girlfriend. We might have cheered with many when Sterling was not only banned from all NBA facilities, but fined 2.5 million dollars, and most likely forced to sell the Clippers which, some estimates project, will cost upward of a hundred million dollars. Despite the solidarity we might feel with the NBA's swift enactment of justice, here are a few points to consider if we look at what this moment says about free society, our institutions, and the precedents we might be setting.
- Don Sterling's racism needs pity as much as vitriol
Sterling's sickening revelation that he views "his" LA Clippers with a plantation mindset (he gives money, houses, cars to the black people who work for him) is racist, sure, but it's also delusional. The only thing worse than this statement would be if it were actually true. The fact that it's not just means that Sterling (perhaps like many people) lives with a deluded sense of self and others, a false reality perhaps catalyzed by his success. So it seems in all of this, that one of the hallmarks of a free society should really be to pity Sterling, since his bigotry enslaves him in much more punishing ways than anything the NBA could enforce. What justice is served by taking money from an already impoverished man?
NBA inconsistency and the power of our media
We should be a bit more appalled with how the information was obtained. Again, in a free society, are we not a bit concerned that private conversations that might not have held up in a court of law are now held up to the court of public opinion in order for swift justice to be enacted? Recall that the NBA knew Sterling had racist views and that Sterling had even settled trials publicly showcasing his racism before, but was never dealt with. What changed? The only thing that really changed was the power of TMZ to take what might have just been more fodder for the gossiping masses and use it to pressure Adam Silver to take the extreme stance that, what can't help but wonder, would not have been in other circumstances. Of course Sterling's comments, even if made in private, are awful; but as Mark Steyn argues, what the NBA is doing, from the pressure of the media, is worse. They are enabling a world where cell phone videos and surveillance can take private conversations to publicly shame and defame anyone. Again, while we might cheer the outing of Sterling, the erosion of trust will have consequences that perhaps will ripple out of control.
Running with the mob sets a precedent
In a free society, we might rightfully hate the words which come out of another's mouth, but still defend (to the death!) their right to say it. What should really worry us, then, is that in this increasingly Orwellian world of surveillance, the changing winds of public opinion could mean that the very mob, spurred on by the media, which enacted justice one day, might turn upon us tomorrow. What happens in the future, if an NBA owner claims to believe homosexuality goes against Scripture? Actually, never mind tomorrow, look what's already happening with the chatter around the Orlando Magic.
If you are quick to run with the mob and pick up the torches and the pitchforks, but you confuse the mob's cacophony for the sweet harmony of justice, don't be surprised when, down some future road, you find the mob bearing down on you.