First, it was Brendan Eich, a heroic American whose only alleged transgression was lending financial support to a political movement explicitly predicated on the idea that gays were a threat to the safety and well-being of children.
Second, it was Condoleeza Rice, a heroic American whose only alleged transgression was serving in a ruinous presidential administration that engaged in all sorts of questionable activities, including torture and wiretapping.
And now, Donald Sterling, a heroic American whose only transgression was being taped saying that he was bothered when his mistress made it public that she occasionally rubbed elbows with actual African-Americans, oh, and also all of this other stuff, oh, and also that he allegedly refused to rent property to minorities but that was so long ago (eight years, to be precise) that it hardly warrants mentioning.
No, the real issue here isn’t Sterling’s behavior. The real issue are his critics, each of them more totalitarian than the last, each of them dismissive of not only the First Amendment, but America in general.* Instead of celebrating not only Sterling but everything he said, there are people criticizing him, and not only criticizing him, but expecting that there will be consequences for his own decisions. This includes his own ungrateful, good-for-nothing players.
This is outrageous. If free speech means anything, it is that anybody anywhere can say whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want without ever having to worry about there being consequences for their actions. If the things we say are made to matter in a global sort of way, we run the very real risk of people choosing not to say as many outrageous, objectionable, or offensive things. And if people aren’t constantly saying the most outrageous, objectionable, offensive things imaginable, what then? Mussolini would weep upon recognizing his own fascism’s laughable insufficiency.
So what then is the solution? It certainly isn’t punishing Donald Sterling. His lifetime ban should be forgotten, his fines forgiven, and any attempt to sell his team forsaken. Then, he should be apologized to, first by the NBA’s odious commissioner Adam Silver – a man who inexplicably took into account the ethnicity of the overwhelming majority of his league’s players when deciding to issue apologies for Sterling’s comments – and then by anybody anywhere who had the temerity to say anything critical about the way Sterling did his business. This includes somebody like Bomani Jones, an outrageous charlatan who had the audacity to reference Sterling’s allegedly discriminatory housing, as if two alleged wrongs are indicative of anything. But it also includes anybody who sought to question Sterling’s thinking or his meaning. It includes anybody who thinks that Sterling went too far. It includes anybody who thinks anything whatsoever about Sterling that isn’t entirely laudatory.
However, abandoned punishments and emphatic apologies will not wholly fix this total assault on free-speech as we understand it. Sterling should be given additional opportunities to expand upon his views. To provide him with anything else would be an affront to free speech as all decent and right-thinking people understand it. At a minimum, Sterling should tour nationally at his critics’ expense. Newsletters with mandatory subscriptions for all don’t seem unreasonable. And an hour per week on network television is hardly too much given all that this man has been through.
Some will say that Sterling deserves no such treatment. Some will claim that speaking freely should necessarily include an element of risk. Some will insist that Sterling has nobody to blame but himself for what has happened. But each of these people should be rightly understood as a sort of modern Hitler, if not worse, because nothing is more precious in a free society than the ability to speak freely without fear of any consequences at all whatsoever. If our Founding Fathers agreed on anything universally and absolutely, it was definitely this, which is why the First Amendment clearly reads that,
“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.”
See! Right there! Boom! Donald Sterling gets to say and do whatever he wants and nobody else can ever say or do anything about it. Suck on that losers.
*Fortunately, some brave Americans still know the score.
(Photo borrowed from Deadspin.)