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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has made racist comments for years.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has made racist comments for years. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Don't punish Clippers' racist owner

The National Basketball Association gave us "A Tale of Two Cities" storyline over the weekend – the best of times and the worst of times.

On one hand you had a whole bunch of great games. On the other you had Donald Sterling, the piggish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was recorded making racist remarks to his girlfriend. The remarks were published by TMZ and Sterling was hung out to dry.

Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, donned his lawyer hat and said he would investigate and he thought the comments were disturbing. The howls of protest ranged from cries from a fine for Sterling to suspension (how do you suspend an owner?), forcing him to sell his team, and there were also suggestions that won’t find their way into any column I write.

I hate what Sterling said.

I hate racism.

I have always been proud of my family and the way all of us have grown up absent any hint of racism or sexism or any of the other bad "isms." I have always tried to treat people fairly.

Guys like Sterling give me the creeps. A billionaire with this kind of philosophy is, in my view, a dangerous kind of person.

But I also believe, as deeply as I can, that Sterling, and all the rest of us, should be free to say what we want without any kind of sanction for our language.

More than three decades ago, the Nazi party wanted to stage a parade in Skokie, Ill., which was a city where a majority of a population was either a survivor of the holocaust or related to a holocaust victim.

Nothing could be more repugnant than seeing Nazis marching down the streets of Skokie.

Up until that point in my life, I had never contributed to any kind of political movement, party or activity. But I remember in 1977 sending some small check (I wasn’t making any money) to the ACLU for the fund to defend the Nazis.

Jewish blood flows through my veins but the most important thing to me was not being a Jew or being a Nazi.

It was being an American.

You see, I believe in the First Amendment to our Constitution.

"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."

Free speech means just that. Free speech. No maybes. Free!

No, you can’t falsely yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater, because that presents a "clear and present" danger to people.

But Sterling isn’t even close to meeting that standard. Sure, he’s a pig. Sure, he’s vile. Sure, he’s shameful.

But he’s not without his rights, rights that belong to each and every one of us.

Once we decide to punish people for something they say that is within their rights, we are on a slippery slope I would just as soon avoid.

Let’s see Adam Silver and the other owners stand up for what’s right in our world, not cave in to a justifiable, honorable and popular public outcry.

Talkbacks

sandstorm | April 28, 2014 at 6:09 p.m. (report)

Andy Tarnoff-If Dave Begel handed in a blatantly racist blog, would you print it?

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bgrassl | April 28, 2014 at 4:22 p.m. (report)

Sterling has freedom of speech. He will not be arrested and the government will not take any action against him. The NBA, on the other hand, is under no obligation to allow this. The other owners vote to allow an owner into a league, they can vote to get rid of an owner. Owning a NBA is not a right. It is a privilege, and can (and in this case, probably should) be taken away.

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Photodavie | April 28, 2014 at 1:07 p.m. (report)

36366 The NBA is a private organization. They can terminate contracts for any number of "unamerican" reasons. The NBA would be much better off without this type o owner damaging their brand. However, it's in Donald's best interest to sell the team in the off season. Failure to do so would be a financial nightmare. The value of the team is going to plummet while he won't be able to sign an free-agents, keep his coach, and fan merch sales will deteriorate. The longer he waits, the more it will cost him. The Bucks were valued at $350mil and sold for $550. The Clippers were valued at $540mil. Realistically, they could sell for $750mil+. If he waits a year, the value could be half that. Look for suspension now, and a sale in the offseason.

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emills81 | April 28, 2014 at 12:22 p.m. (report)

The real questions is, does this mean we have a shot at getting Doc as head coach of the Bucks? With a Al McGuire/Marquette Alumni on board it makes it a lot easier for people of milwaukee to start getting behind the bucks & a new Arena.

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