The Real Reason Donald Sterling Was Banned

Although the response to Donald Sterling's racist comments has been pretty universally one of revulsion, the reaction to the NBA's decision to ban Sterling from the league for life and to fine him 2.5 million dollars has been more multifarious.

Some have difficulty with the idea that a private citizen's property could confiscated from him. Which I think is just hooey. After all, we're not talking about the state. A private association banned a private member from participating in their business venture. If they decide he represents them badly, that's up to them. Sterling could, theoretically, take his club and go play in the Mexican league. The fact that his club would go from being worth many millions of dollars to almost nothing is almost incidental. I've heard that he might be forced to sell, which would make it more complicated. Nonetheless, private persons, private associations, contracts between them. Let them do business how they will. The NBA is not a public service.

Others object to the hypocrisy displayed. 
Breitbart published a list of despicable things that won't get you kicked out of the league, including Sterling's actively racist discrimination in housing and Clippers player J. J. Redick's abortion contract.

Still others objected to the thought police aspects of the situation. I saw this popping up all over, including at Kuyperian Commentary, a blog that I contribute to. Here's Peter Jones:
Donald Sterling’s comments were out of line. As an owner he should be held to a high standard. But this knife will eventually cut Christians as well. How soon before a player is cut because he opposes gay marriage? How soon before a paycheck is confiscated because a player thinks Islam is a false religion? The problem isn’t that Sterling was punished (though I think it is excessive), the problem is that our standard for what to punish is based on public perception, not on any objective truth that can be appealed to. 
Today I was listening to Rush Limbaugh (yes, I do listen to him occasionally) and heard this where Rachel Nichols a former ESPN reporter now reporting for CNN says that other owners should watch out. Why should they watch out? Because now the league can hold them accountable. And guess what she specifically mentions: gay marriage. She mentions the owner of the Orlando Magic, who has been outspoken against gay marriage. Rachel understands what this means. The ban on Donald Sterling is not a strike against all racists everywhere. It is strike for political correctness masquerading as righteousness. Any Christian who thinks Donald Sterling’s ban is a good thing is blind to where this train is headed.
I do believe that our transition from republic to democracy has turned the corner beyond democracy into ochlocracy (which is the mob plus demagogues). The mobile vulgus and the vulgar press shape much of our policy, so that the state can force a private cake-maker to make cakes on the state's agenda, and everyone is fine with the rights of one private citizen being trampled for the "good" of the majority.

So there's merit to this first-they-came-for-the-racist-NBA-owners-and-I-said-nothing fear. Slippery slopes are real. But the fact is, if there is no injustice in the individual case, it's not part of a slippery slope. And there's no connection between race relations and gay marriage.

Is there injustice in a private association banning someone who acts wickedly and expresses wicked views? (There is the complication that he was surreptitiously recorded.) No.

Racism and xenophobia is an actual evil, one that the Bible condemns. If Sterling has been banned for acting racist, no injustice has been done. Again, there can be no slippery slope.

So...everything's fine, right?

Well, no. Everything is not fine. Here's the NBA's official press release on its ban of Donald Sterling. Racial discrimination is not mentioned. The word "race" does not appear, nor do any of its derivatives. The term discrimination appears when discussing the fine money, which "will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts." And here we have an indication of the problem.

Can it be that Donald Sterling was not banned for being a racist but for being "intolerant"? Perhaps Mr. Jones, whom we quoted above, was right. The NBA was actually quite clear on why Sterling was banned. In a word, it's because he was "hurtful".
The discipline issued today is based on the Commissioner's conclusion that Mr. Sterling violated league rules through his expressions of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league.
No mention of "you shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself". But of course not. No mention of justice, or liberty, or equality, words that have been sorely manipulated of late but have real meaning and objectivity. No shareable standard of good, no attempt at objectivity, not even one that tries to kill me, or with which I could disagree.

Donald Sterling ban should have been a good thing. But it wasn't. It turns out you can be banned from the NBA for hurting people's feelings. That's all it takes. And that is why Jones is right. You've been given fair warning: if enough people get butthurt about something, you're gone.

And let us not forget. The cross is an offense, and Jesus a rock of offense.


  1. If I were sawing off a limb, which side would I be on? First I must admit I lack all the facts (I guess that puts me out with the leaves) but doesn't every culture have its stereo types? Let's face it, whitey is uptight and lacks rythem, some cultures lack hygiene, the red man had problems with alcohol, others have the image of being tight wads and so on you know the drill. Are these reflections of the unchartered subconscious, unconscious foo pas or signs of an agenda? I don't believe Hillary Clinton was punished when trivializing Benghazi (pardon my spelling) and the insensitivity to the loss of life. I'm not taking sides just sawing!

  2. This provoked a lot of thoughts in me, not all of which are clear enough to be useful.
    A few:
    1. .... But Sterling IS racist. So if your fellow businessmen throw you out because you're an asshole, I'm honestly ok with that. He manages a business that hires predominantly minority players, and I wonder if they'd been hoping the guy would die soon anyway. It's hard to defend a jerk. So I'm glad he got the ax, even if it's embarrassing that it took people this long to do anything.

    2. The First Amendment must protect unpopular speech if it's going to be an effective protection of a civil right. Because racism (and its offshoots, like hating immigrants and treating them badly) is biblically wrong, I'm not unhappy when society manages to oust someone who's a jerk.... but if we weaken a foundational civil right that protects the ability to spark much-needed discourse, I am uneasy. I don't know what to do with this.

    3. I think, as the Constitution is interpreted these days, the Establishment Clause and other Constitutional statements that separate religion from our public life will also guarantee that LGBTQ individuals become a protected minority. I can see the "slippery slope" argument that you discuss, but I don't think it's going to matter.

    As an American and a Christian, I don't have a problem with that. I think the job of rescuing people from their sin belongs to Jesus, and the Church is charged to carry the Gospel, make disciples, and love people--not set up social structures that impose that on an unyielding, unsaved populace.

    I'd be happy if our government stopped trying to define marriage (move all the tax breaks to civil unions and return "marriage" to the churches). And I think the wedding cake people who refuse to serve gay couples are.... kind of obnoxious. In the right, I guess, and probably on the correct side of the law. But inhospitable, ungiving, and ungracious.

    But I think point 3 is probably going too far off-topic. ;)

    1. Thanks, Lori.

      1. I'm no way defending Sterling. I too am glad he got the ax, and justice was definitely served. It just seems like it was by accident. Not for racism/racist behavior, but for being offensive. Mark Cuban is "offensive".

      2. I don't think there's any free speech issue here, since the government isn't muzzling him.

      3. I'm not concerned about protection of homosexuals. I'm concerned that it and other things are coming at the expense of Christian freedom. As for the cake...I can speak for that business, but for myself, I would never make a cake for a homosexual wedding. To be clear, I would gladly bake a cake for homosexuals, for a birthday, and anniversary, for being a neighbor, for fun. But a wedding is too sacred a thing; I wouldn't be able to do it. Perhaps that is the perspective they are coming from. It's not just any cake, it's a wedding cake.

      Thanks again for reading.

    2. *can't speak for that business

  3. It does seem that freedom of speech is the big complaint I keep hearing too. I'm not sure that most people recognize what exactly the 1st Amendment does and doesn't do, since as you said the government has nothing to do with this situation.

    Still, the mob-rules reaction to somebody being "offensive" is troubling.


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