Donald Sterling, discrimination and Rich DeVos

It has been more than a week since the release of the infamous phone conversation between now-suspended Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend where Sterling made several racist comments about who his girlfriend should and should not associate with or bring to “his” Clippers games.

Adam Silver brought the hammer down swiftly last Tuesday banning Sterling for life and initiating action to force Sterling to sell the team. Every team is expected to vote Sterling out of the league, including Magic owner Rich DeVos.

There was a cord touched though in Orlando when it came to this story. I brought it up pretty quickly on Twitter and had several discussions along those lines. It was brought up again in several articles shortly after too. First from Preston Raulerson of Magic Basketball Online, then in the web of conservative commentators (including Rush Limbaugh), then in a column from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel and then again in a column from Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel.

There are a lot of thoughts on the matter. No, the league is not coming after Rich DeVos, or any other owner for that matter, for their past indiscretions or sins. Donald Sterling was an exceptional circumstance that raised the ire of the players in the league and the nation as the final straw for a long pattern of conduct.

Sterling has pretty much gone into hiding from the public eye — as he should — and he will have to sell his team even after his litigators finish their job trying to sue the NBA.

Public humiliation is often the best form of punishment for these things, but the league had to take further action because of the public uproar. This is why, Maxwell explains, DeVos is different from Sterling:

Because DeVos doesn’t have a track record of discriminating against gays. Also because there’s a grand total of one openly gay player in the NBA.

But the main reason the NBA won’t target Rich DeVos for his vocal beliefs that gay people need to accept their second-class status — and not “keep trying to change things” — is because a lot of people still agree with him.

Rich DeVos, despite his controversial and closed-minded stance on gay rights and marriage equality, is not Donald Sterling. His story is much more complex.

Back in 2012, news came out that a group was planning a protest of Amway, the company Rich DeVos owns, and included the possibility of staging demonstrations at Magic games. That never happened, but the story did gain some traction and even two years ago — so much has happened in the marriage equality and homosexual civil rights and acceptance movement since then — received a big response after I published the story.

DeVos’ stance and comments on gay marriage, and especially his attitude toward AIDS in the gay community, are despicable. He deserves some public shaming for those comments (I do not recall if that occurred when he made those comments in 2009). Religious freedom and the belief that gay marriage is a “sin” is fine and certainly protected. But the denial of basic civil liberties and rights to someone based on sexual preference and a natural proclivity is something that goes against the very ideals of the country.

In essence, the cause DeVos supports does something worse than what Donald Sterling did in denying housing to minorities. He aims to deny a group of people a basic right the government guarantees to all citizens. At least, that is how I view it. I understand that some see marriage equality as a political issue and not a civil liberties issue. I respect that opinion, even though I vehemently disagree with it.

AlexMartins_DanDeVos050212That murky area is a key reason why DeVos will not be put on trial — although some certainly would like to see that done (and I have talked to other fans who brought up other potential racial/political indiscretions from other owners that may deserve examining).

But, at the same time, DeVos and his family, are not anywhere near as despicable as Sterling is in the way he lives his life. They did not discriminate in hiring despite their beliefs on this issue. The Magic have always separated themselves from DeVos’ statements and have shown, as far as I know, acceptance of the Orlando LGBT community. A group was expected to appear at the Magic’s April home game against the Nets to support Jason Collins, the league’s first openly gay player.

Further, the DeVos family has been extremely philanthropic both in their home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and in the Orlando community. I noted this back in 2012 too. There is no doubt, the DeVos family through their ownership of the Magic have made a positive impact on their community.

The DeVos family has long encouraged Magic players to give back to their community and have sought players that would fulfill this mission.

It provides a much murkier picture of the family. This was the point Raulerson tried to get across in his post from last week:

Here is the tough part, though: would you support it? While you may unequivocally disagree with their position on homosexuality (as I do), the DeVos family has done amazing things for the city of Orlando, many charitable organizations, and the Orlando Magic franchise itself. He is beloved and respected by many around the league, has dumped massive amounts of money into the team, and has been both supportive and proactive in getting  Magic players involved in the community. Would you want them to lose both the franchise they care for so deeply and the money that they’ve invested, and also have the city lose a major patriarch and sponsor, all because they have some backwards beliefs reinforced through being earnestly religious? Conversely, would you want a major patriarch of your city, and the owner of your favorite team, known as the financier for groups that many identify as anti-gay?

It is difficult to both appreciate this help and this contribution to the community and also reconcile it with this controversial position, his controversial comments and his stance denying a civil liberty to a subset of the population. These are serious things to consider.

In the end, the thing to remember is the owner signs the checks, but the team is the one we cheer for. That was the message the Clippers and the Clippers players gave their fans as they retook the court last week. They played for each other and the fans, not for the owner.

Everyone is free to protest how they choose. That is the beauty of free speech. You can act with your pocketbook and your feet — those are speech actions, after all.

If you ask me my two cents, I have a tough time reconciling everything. Ultimately, I do believe the DeVoses are good people . . . with incredibly backward and repressive views toward gay civil rights and marriage equality. My hope is that they realize they are on the losing side of history and support full civil rights for all citizen of the United States. Whatever god or any other deity wants to do with that is a matter of personal belief that should not be imposed on others.

The DeVoses stance, in other words, does not affect my ability to watch the Magic play basketball however. You are free to choose your own opinion however and it would be completely understandable.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily