In November 2009, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling settled a lawsuit in which the Department of Justice alleged that Sterling had discriminated against Hispanics, blacks and families without children in his rental properties. The lawsuit contained testimony that Sterling had suggested Hispanics were poor tenants because they "smoke, drink, and just hang around the building," and that "black tenants smell and attract vermin." The settlement cost him and his insurers $2.73 million.
The NBA and the national media said virtually nothing. That same year, the NAACP gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2005, Sterling signed a check for more than $5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that he had attempted to prevent non-Koreans from renting in his facilities in Koreatown.
The NBA and the national media said virtually nothing.
This week, Sterling's 31-year-old girlfriend, V. Stiviano, released a tape of the 80-year-old racist being an 80-year-old racist. Sterling apparently told Stiviano he didn't want her posting pictures of black men on her Instagram account and didn't want her bringing black men to Clippers games.
The entire media establishment suddenly went insane. Colin Cowherd of ESPN idiotically called for the league to void all of Sterling's contracts with his players and agents -- a violation of basic contract law. Magic Johnson declared that the NBA should force Sterling to sell his team -- a violation of basic contract law. President Barack Obama, determined never to let an opportunity pass to label America racist, took to the microphones to declare Sterling's racism a symptom of America's "legacy of race and slavery and segregation."
This is, at the very least, hypocrisy. Last year, Sterling signed coach Doc Rivers, who is black, to a contract worth $7 million per year. Chris Paul, who is black, is slated to make nearly $19 million this season. Blake Griffin, who is black, is slated to make $16 million. DeAndre Jordan will make $11 million. The coach, these players and their agents surely knew about Sterling's legacy. So did Cowherd, Johnson and Obama. They all said nothing.
But the big problem here isn't hypocrisy. The big problem is that the market is turning on Sterling not over action, but over words. Sterling's a pig, and that's been no secret for decades. But what triggered America's response? Sterling's thoughts. American society now considers expression of thought to be significantly more important than action. Sterling got away with actual discrimination for years. But now he is caught on tape telling his gold-digging girlfriend he doesn't like blacks, and that's when the firestorm erupts?
This is the thought police at work. Feelings matter more than action. Words matter more than harming others. That sets a radically dangerous precedent for freedom of thought and speech, particularly for those whose thought and speech we hate. Freedom of speech and thought matters especially when it is speech and thought with which we disagree. The moment the majority decides to destroy people for engaging in thought it dislikes, thoughtcrime becomes a reality.
Sterling's career should have been ended by public outrage based on his established patterns of discrimination years ago. To end it based not on such disreputable action but on private musings caught on tape demonstrates America's newfound disregard for the rights of those whose thought we find despicable.