Is Donald Sterling's Banishment from the NBA an Infringement on Free Speech?Submitted by Marc Clair on Wed, 04/30/2014 - 13:17
Yesterday NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, will be banned from the National Basketball League for life for racist comments he made in a conversation recorded by his girlfriend, V.Stiviano. Naturally, a large majority of the population – as well as NBA fans – are outraged over his comments, and are cheering on his swift expulsion from the NBA. And just as naturally, many people are overreacting to the news of his banishment. Deadspin has posted several tweets from people declaring the “1st amendment is dead” over Sterling’s harsh punishment stemming from his remarks.
I won’t address whether or not Sterling is a racist, a relatively subjective term, nor will I address the legality or morality of V. Stivniano’s recording of their conversation. What I will address is the idea that Sterling’s punishment is somehow signaling the end of free speech as we know it.
“Free speech” as we call it does not dictate that one has the right to say anything, to anyone, at any time without consequences. It merely makes their speech legal, meaning nobody will face the lethal force that comes with the rule of law in retaliation for something they have said. And in this case, as far as I can tell, Sterling faces no legal threat whatsoever. As an NBA owner, Sterling likely has agreed to certain conditions and bylaws under the NBA constitution, the same constitution which gave commissioner Adam Silver the authority to fine Sterling $2.5 million.
As a private entity, the NBA has every right to enforce certain rules and morals of conduct within its boundaries, and if it has deemed that Sterling has violated those rules it has every right to enforce action within those confines. Sterling may have a legal claim of his own, depending on just what those bylaws say, but “free speech” is not an issue here.
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