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U.S. Constitutional Law Protects Donald Sterling's Racist Views

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Like a death blow, the punishment was swift and harsh. On Tuesday, April 27th, NBA National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver issued a life time NBA ban for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling over recent disgusting allegations involving Sterling making vile racist comments about black people. The comments were made during a recorded private conversation with his mistress, or special confidant identified as Vivian Stiviano.

The conversation was leaked to TMZ, an entertainment program.

In a rambling, frustrated, angry tone, Stiviano's recorder captured Sterling's voice pleading with her not to bring black people with her to any Clippers game, including the legendary Magic Johnson.

Mainstream media and the internet/blogging community went into overdrive reporting the burgeoning scandal as it unfolded with all the gloom and doom of a pending funeral because race is a red hot topic. The media pounced on Sterling's aging flesh similar to when lions devoured helpless Christians during historical Roman days.

This article does not support or endorse Mr. Sterling's racist rants or past racist behavior towards blacks or any other ethnic group. What Mr. Sterling said shamefully exposes him as someone with a racially obsessed attitude.

What is important, which seems to have escaped public eyes, is the fact in the midst of Donald Sterling's unacceptable bigoted comments is that we have miserably failed to afford Mr. Sterling the "right" to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution. As long as a statement or particular speech is not spoken to incite violence or criminal conduct - anyone in the land of the free can utter the n-word, disparage different ethnic groups or declare on top of Mount Everest that "I am a racist."

Yes, you heard it correctly.

donald sterling
Donald Sterling

It's not illegal under the Constitution of America to be a bigot or speak racist language, no matter how offensive. Racist language or someone being a bigot is not a crime unless a crime was committed or motivated by racial hatred.

Pay close attention to the following:

Every American regardless of race, color or creed, has the absolute "right" to free speech as part of the Constitution's Bill of Rights, which was ratified in December 1791. Under the First Amendment of the Constitution it explicitly says: Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridge the freedom of speech or the press. This same free speech is afforded to Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling - no matter if we hate his guts for making racially charged statements.

Mr. Sterling is now an outcast, a pariah. But why are we not concerned by the process in which Sterling's girlfriend recorded him and released the tape to the media for millions of TV viewers to "slice it and dice it" with the intensity of a roaring bear. Mr. Sterling is a U.S. citizen who voiced his views during a private intimate conversation with a woman. And he is entitled to free speech like everyone else in America.

So where are the defenders of free speech?

Bottom line: Sterling has the right under the First Amendment to free speech when he spoke about blacks and other things related. His comments, though, do not violate the Constitution, but apparently his comments violated the NBA's Constitution and By-laws.

For instance, Article 13 of the NBA Constitution and By-Laws released publicly on Tuesday, says: The interest of any owner may be terminated "by a vote of three fourths of the Board of Governors" - "if that person falls guilty of one of 10 specific violations."

Keep in mind, none of the 10 violations to terminate an NBA owner states anything about "disparaging black people to his girlfriend during a private conversation." Nor does it, say, "any negative comments about Magic Johnson."

What got Sterling into "hot water" is a separate NBA provision, Part(A) of Article 13, which states an owner may not "Willfully violate any of the provisions of the NBA Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreement of the association."

Under Article 35 A(d), on page 47; it reads:

"The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period any person who, in his opinion, been found guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the association."

Now this is where the rubber burns the road. Although Sterling spoke racially offensive words during a private conversation with his mistress, those same words were prejudicial to the NBA.

As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during the press conference, "It no longer matters that Sterling's comments were made in private, nor does it matter for the NBA's purpose how they became public."

"The only thing that matters," Silver added, "is that they're out and are without question prejudicial and detrimental to the association."

Can The NBA Legally Force Donald Sterling to Sell the LA Clippers?

People may believe it is carved in stone that Donald Sterling is a bigot. They may say it is awful that he has brought shame upon the NBA. Still we shouldn't lose sight that our free speech is a fundamentally important value, although public figures like politicians, news reporters, clergymen, celebrities and corporate business owners and their employers are held to different standards because they represent a name brand attached to either religion, products, power and money.

Should a private conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend be treated differently than hate speech spoken in public?

Yes it should.

What's also important is that the NBA should not force Mr. Sterling to sell his basketball franchise without due process under the law. Acting in fairness the NBA should encourage him through continuous negotiations to let Sterling bow out and ride off into the sunset to prevent hordes of protests from citizens, coaches and NBA players.

So how should American citizens view free speech protected under the Constitutional law of the United States? Are people only allowed to express what they feel without reprisal as long as they agree with the views of others?

For example, what kind of effort has anyone made to stop or at least counter protest the members of Westboro Baptist Church, the members who gleefully protest at funerals of military soldiers killed in the line of duty? Despite the hateful acts of the Westboro crew, has anyone tried to stifle their speech?

My key point: While one issue may not offend people, racism surely does.

Free speech allows Americans to be citizens of law, not of popular opinion. Free speech protects us from the "hang em high" mentality and the Jim Crow laws that we worked so hard to overcome during the era when our U.S. government sanctioned racial hatred. Therefore we pick and choose whom to vilify over statements they make, no matter if it's said in private, similar to Sterling's situation.

We as a nation should decide what our true values are, and not "pick and choose" who, to ostracize over free speech.

Racist views should not be tolerated but it is so ironic Mr. Sterling is best remembered for the bad things he said in private than when he made statements about the reason he preferred not to rent apartments to blacks because they stink and the stench attracted vermin. The NBA had a chance back then to punish Sterling but they never acted.

Despite the worst that may have been revealed about Donald Sterling, we can use this event to dialogue about the serious need for worldwide human dignity, to remind people that all of God's human creation has value. As for people like Sterling expressing racist views in private behind close doors - it looks like George Orwell was right when he famously once said, "the thought police are coming for you."

An analyst & researcher for the PI industry and a business consultant, Clarence Walker is a veteran writer, crime reporter and investigative journalist. His writing career began with True Crime Magazines in Houston TX in 1983, where he published over 300 feature stories. Read an expanded bio and more stories by Clarence Walker.

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