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Is Donald Sterling's Banishment from the NBA an Infringement on Free Speech?

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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It was posted on this wonderful website a few months (maybe years) back. It's a great reminder how our culture used to view privacy rights...


If anything

that woman that recorded and released this ought to be put in jail for breaking the law. He has a right to privacy in a private conversation. She released this with the intent to harm him and without consent. Had he made any such statements publicly it's another story.

Whether or not I think he is a a bigot or otherwise is besides the point. The woman should be sued for damages and server some jail time in my opinion. I don't even like or care about NBA basketball AT ALL.

Regardless of his outlook

Regardless of his outlook about anybody I would be more concerned that this man's personal thoughts as discussed in a private conversation with an "intimate"? friend is subject to public eavesdropping. It's just as bad as wire-tapping isn't it?

There's no law against making

There's no law against making a fool of oneself in the court of public opinion. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences.


Well Except For Depriving Him of His Property, Due Process,

and levying fines.

So without actually throwing him in the gulag, it's all reasonable. Like manifest destiny and Japanese Americans- mob rule is never wrong. Just so long as the majority of us agree.

As i briefly looked up Cali

As i briefly looked up Cali is a two party state in regards to recording someone's audio. Both parties have to consent to recording of the conversation and since this release of his conversation was illegal under state law then a few of his rights were violated but his free speech were not.

No Expectation of Privacy?

A few of his rights were violated, but no big deal. Just so long as us "good folks" all agree.

NBA's response shows how private sector can manage racism

When Rand Paul is attacked on the Civil Rights Act, he should prepare to use the Sterling-NBA saga to defend libertarianism. The NBA banished Sterling because racism is bad for business. Money is the same color no matter who might possess it, and racism conflicts with the meritocracy of sports.

If the federal government had struck down compulsory segregation but had allowed private business establishments to decide whether to integrate, what would have happened? How many White Supremacists would have honored the profit motive, and how many would have stubbornly allowed others to take their market share? America probably could not tolerate Rand Paul saying all of this, but Rand Paul should pick out parts of it to use to his advantage when he is attacked.

‘Each individual is separated from others by a "taboo of personal isolation"...this "narcissism of minor differences"'
--Sigmund Freud

In some ways it does

Free speech, thought, and expression have numerous layers. The "right" to free speech as protected by the Constitution has to do with government restrictions. But free speech, thought, and expression also exist as the public good of tolerance. A society tolerant of differing points of view is an innovative and healthy society. A society that uses ostracism and economic sanction on those they disagree with willy nilly is not a free society in my opinion.

Ventura 2012

It does not infringe on free speech

Players, fans and the private club called the NBA have every right to punish him in the marketplace

The 'Freedom of Speech' is

The 'Freedom of Speech' is not a clear across the board freedom to speak wherever and whenever you choose.

It is rather actually a prohibition placed upon the government:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.

That means government cannot interfere with your speech. Sterling still has his freedom of speech and the government did not take it away or infringe upon it.

Basically what it boils down to is that Sterling can say whatever he wants wherever he wants in his home (his own property), but he cannot do the same in the NBA's house.

That's why it is not an infringement of his first amendment protected rights.


No such thing

Libertarians don't believe in the freedom of speech, they believe in property rights.

You can say anything you want as long as (1) it's on or with your own property, OR (2) you have the consent of the property owner.

The right to free speech is a positive right and does not exist. Only negative rights exist. Freedom from aggression, as long as you don't initiate aggression.

wolfe's picture

So another way to ask the question...

Did the gold digger commit aggression when she baited and trapped him into saying the things she knew he would say, and knowing how they would be interpreted by the listeners, and recording them without his consent.

Since the first property is self, and we all do believe that we own that which we produce and improve, that would include our speech by some definitions. He believed he was speaking privately.

In the less strict interpretation that most libertarians use, she was not an aggressor. By others, she was an aggressor for violating that which he produced through fraudulent means.

These are the slippery questions that, as libertarians, we don't answer well.

Fortunately, most of us don't believe they necessarily need to be answered directly, but instead addressed by the "witnesses" in the form of "taking a side" and supporting that side.

The Philosophy Of Liberty -

The NBA sucks anyway

But not an infringement on free speech.

However, it does show how recorded messages & conversations can be used against people with no criminal activity involved. So those that have no problem with NSA blanket spying better change their tune lest they be the next victim.


I think he is free to say what he wants. But, in the end, he has to face the public. The cat cannot be put back in the bag! The public will makes sure his undesired presence, in a league kept alive by people of all races, will be ended.


I agree completely!

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

Just be careful calling the nba private...

Territorial exclusion, massive tax payer subsidies, special communications privileges(see sports act 1961?) and numerous other barriers to entry.

Also, while it is certainly not an infringement on free speech, it is a little grayer when it comes to the question of private property rights. Who really owns the team?



There are fair points to be made about the crony capitalist privileges afforded to the NBA and other sports leagues, absolutely. But the reaction is not a freedom of speech issue; it's a PR issue being dealt with in the confines of the organization knows as the "NBA". The recording of the conversation is it's own issue, but unless the government comes after sterling for his words it's not a. Freedom of speech issue.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*



The cheese stands alone. The proof is in the pudding.

All part of a campaign

being pushed hard right now!!!!!


Not only that, but this is

Not only that, but this is very smart business on the part of the NBA. They need to distance themselves immediately from Sterling, less they want to hurt their bottom line.

For Sterling, yes, it sucks that his privacy was so infringed, but sad day for him.

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Good topic - well written. Thanks.

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