By now everyone is aware of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling getting caught on tape making insanely racist comments to his girlfriend.
There’s not a whole lot of people who will disagree with the fact that what Sterling said is obnoxiously racist and spectacularly idiotic. What has not really been discussed a whole lot is the minefield of problems it creates for the entire Clippers organization and the NBA as a whole.
The thing about Sterling’s comments is this. He is perfectly entitled to his racist and moronic views. America is a country where if you would like to be racist and say racist things, you are free to be that variety of creep. While you perhaps ought to decide that perhaps these things should be thought and not said, you are still free to say and do these things just like you’re free to have a donkey live in your backyard. Even if you shouldnt, you can.
That being said, freedom of speech is not freedom from responsibility. If someone is to say something idiotic like that, he or she needs to brace for the inevitable backlash, which Sterling more than likely has. It is that backlash that will be a headache for the Clippers in days and weeks to come.
Predictably, people have demanded Sterling to be punished and some even suggest he sell the team. Whether or not you might think this is harsh, it’s happening. The problem is that he never broke the law. He broke basic codes of morals and ethics, but the law has remained intact. There’s nothing saying he needs to sell the team or leave basketball in any form. Forcing him to sell the team is a slippery slope that ends in the NBA doing whatever they want.
Sterling being the type of guy he is, selling the team likely isn’t going to happen. He is probably in the market for a new girlfriend, however his ownership in the Clippers remains safe by legal standards. No matter what the NBA says or threatens, they cannot force him to sell the team. Just like Marge Schott could only be forced to sell the Cincinnati Reds by having died.
On the other hand, Sterling has lost tons of support from players, fans, and most of clear-thinking America. His players have already shown solidarity by turning their warm-ups inside out before their game with the Golden State Warriors so as not to show the Clippers logo. Fans are disgusted, people who casually heard about it are disgusted, and even the President has called Sterling out. He has almost no friends in this.
This means that he can either continue to own a team nobody wants to watch or play for, he can sell his team for absolutely no reason whatsoever, or he can do some kind of damage control. Damage control will be tough, since putting the bullet back in the racism gun is impossible. Ask Isaiah Thomas about that.
All of this happening during the playoffs compounds the situation by a factor of a million.
There’s no solution in this and it’s a lose-lose for the Clippers. The only thing they can really do is ride this one out, try to get the focus back on what’s happening on the court, and do their best to contain the fallout.