A Stones Throw 5-8-14

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Donald Sterling is a billionaire worth over $1.8 billion. Donald Sterling is the 80 year-old owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers.

And, Donald Sterling is the voice in the racially derogatory recorded phone conversation with his 30 year-old Private Secretary/Executive Secretary/Mistress.

When the phone conversation was released recently, the world of righteousness came swirling down on Donald Sterling. What started as shock and awe soon turned to a slippery slope of which we should all be aware.

To begin, the effects of the released private phone conversation were quick and severe. Before the sun set for the first time there was a demand that Sterling be removed from ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. There were threats of his players boycotting a playoff game.

After all, who wants to play for a racist?

Also, how can the NBA allow a racist to own an NBA basketball team?

The NBA moved quickly. Before the sun was allowed to set a third time, Donald Sterling was banned from all NBA basketball related activities for life. He was prohibited from attending any NBA basketball game.

And he was fined $2.5 million.

As if this wasn’t enough, he was informed he would have to sell his team.

I have problems with this on several fronts. First, while what was recorded certainly indicates Sterling is a racist, I find it interesting that his long-time secretary/mistress is, as she describes herself, half Asian and half African-American.

Would a dedicated racist maintain this type of relationship for several years?

Donald Sterling received a “Lifetime Achievement” award from the Los Angeles NAACP branch in 2009. He was scheduled to receive a second “Lifetime Achievement” award from the same NAACP branch this year.

Antagonists claim he purchased those awards through his large donations to the NAACP. This may be true, but the question is: Why would a dedicated racist contribute large amounts of money to the NAACP over a period of 15 to 20 years?

I also question how many “Man of the Year,” “Lifetime Achievement,” “Honorary Degree,” etc. are “bought” with significant donations. I would suggest many, if not most.

I wonder if other “bought” awards are as tainted as antagonists now claim of Sterling’s.

What I don’t wonder about is the penalty Sterling has to pay.

In one simple word, the penalty is ‘ridiculous’.

How can anyone justify banning a man from any NBA activities for life just because he said some racially insensitive words in a private moment? If the ban given to Sterling is appropriate for the words he spoke, what is the appropriate punishment for players, coaches, and even referees, who make racial slurs publically or privately?

Wouldn’t fairness dictate, based on Sterling’s punishment that any such incident of racial slurs even by players or others should result in a permanent ban of NBA activities? Unfortunately, such a ban would probably result in the death of several, in not most, NBA teams.

The same is true with the $2.5 million fine.

I understand Sterling is a billionaire, but that doesn’t change the significance of the fine. I wonder how much players and coaches should be fined. Should it be based on the words said or how much the individual is worth?

Then, how can there be any justification in forcing a man to sell his basketball team – or any other property for that matter?

While I realize that Sterling will come out ahead on his forced sale – he purchased the Clippers for $13 million and will eventually sell the team for in excess of $600 million – he should not be required to sell his team.

I am not trying to claim Donald Sterling is not a racist.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that the penalty Donald Sterling has to pay for his racially insensitive words is beyond reasonable. I do know that there are other owners of major professional teams that have been indicted for criminal activities or have been involved in scandals much more damaging than a few racially insensitive words.

And, those other owners still have their teams. They still go to their games – and, they still have $2.5 million.

So – what is right – what is wrong?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to these questions.

In fact, I doubt that there are many who are really concerned about either the question or the answer. At the same time, I think the entire Donald Sterling phone conversation incident should be both of interest and an education to all of us.

Keep in mind, Donald Sterling’s words that were used to strip him of his team and $2.5 million were words that were spoken in a private – intimate – moment with his Secretary/Mistress.

I seriously doubt that Sterling’s intent was to have that intimate conversation recorded and released to the public.

But, that intimate conversation was recorded – and was released.

There is a strong lesson to be learned.

In today’s technology and Internet access, there is no such thing as a “private” conversation. “Pillow talk” can become the next public pronouncement. Conversations with “best friends forever” (bff) can cause a breakup of friendships and damage a “bff’s” future.

I wonder if any of my readers have ever discussed their boss or a fellow employee using derogatory words. (Derogatory words do not need to be racial slurs.)

I wonder if any teenager has ever discussed one of his/her teachers using derogatory words.

I wonder how many have “private/intimate” conversations that are intended to stay private and intimate.

There are probably many who would answer “yes” to one or more of these questions. To those who would answer “yes,” I would ask what would happen if those words were recorded and released to either the subject of the derogatory words or to the public.

What happens when a high school student expresses anger at a teacher while using strong profane and derogatory language – and that anger with all of its derogatory words is recorded and then played to the teacher – or the principal?

Or, what happens if that conversation is about a boss, a neighbor, or anyone else – and the conversation is recorded and released.

Would there be payback?

In some cases – yes.

In other cases – absolutely.

At the same time, should we really worry? After all, it is illegal to record a conversation without permission. It is illegal to release a conversation – even if recorded with permission – without permission.

So, when you combine the fact that our conversations – and our venting – are safe with those we converse with along with the knowledge that recordings and their release can be illegal, why should we be concerned.

The answer is simple.

There is no reason to be concerned.

Just ask Donald Sterling.

- Mike Cooney