The Clippers are going to be sold. That seems inevitable at this point. Yet, Donald Sterling for some reason continues to fight to maintain his team, or at least to overturn the penalties the NBA assessed against him.
Earlier this week, Sterling’s answer to the charge against him from the NBA was released to the media. In it, Sterling lays out an argument that details several past discriminatory and insensitive comments from NBA personnel which did not result in a punishment as severe as the one against him.
An owner donated $500,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, which advocates around the nation to legally ban marriage between homosexual couples. LGBT advocacy groups called for a boycott. The NBA took no action despite these threats of a boycott. On the topic of HIV/AIDS, the same owner had this to say in an interview 2010: “When HIV first came out President Reagan formed a commission, and I was honored to be on that commission. I listened to 300 witnesses tell us that it was everybody else’s fault but their own. Nothing to do with their conduct, just that the government didn’t fix this disease. At the end of that I put in the document, it was the conclusion document from the commission, that actions have consequences and you are responsible for yours. AIDS is a disease that people gain because of their actions. It wasn’t like cancer. We all made the exceptions for how you got it, by accident, that was all solved a long time ago. . . . That’s when they started hanging me in effigy because I wasn’t sympathetic to all their requests for special treatment. Because at that time it was always someone else’s fault. I said, you are responsible for your actions too, you know. Conduct yourself properly, which is a pretty solid Christian principle.” The NBA similarly took no action.
DeVos made those comments publicly in 2008 and it has led to several angry fist shakes and denouncements throughout the LGBT and general community. DeVos has not made any public statements since about his contributions to NOM or to any organization which works to stop ballot measures that would allow for marriage equality. That, of course, does not mean he is no longer donating to these causes or believe in the definition of marriage they purport to defend.
Sterling noted several other instances of verbal statements that would be deemed offensive or prejudicial as a point of comparison. This is one of the few arguments available to Sterling to make.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban noted when the Donald Sterling comments came out and it became clear the NBA would punish him for them that this would lead to a “slippery slope” where every owner’s past actions could be open for debate and punishment. The NBA could become something of a moral police. That is not tenable for everyone.
When the Sterling issue came up, I certainly made the easy connection to DeVos’ prejudicial past comments but also noted the incredible good DeVos has done for his community outside of this one issue (it does not absolve him, but it deserves its own context too). And I have had several productive discussions with followers when this comparison was made.
Sterling clearly does not have the same goodwill among NBA owners or within his own community either. This felt like a smoking gun the league needed to oust this bad apple.
Where there is a clear difference however between DeVos and Sterling is the aftermath. While an LGBT group planned a boycott of Amway and the Magic in response to DeVos’ comments, players in the league planned to boycott games if something was not done. That is a major loss of business to the league and something that it could not stand for. Action was necessary, and clearly and unequivocally taken.
DeVos does deserve to have his name drug through the mud for his comments and stance on marriage equality. If you are like me and view marriage equality as a civil right, then certainly donating copious amounts of money to fighting against it is akin to denying someone a fundamental right. I understand however that not everyone feels that way and that this remains a political issue for now.
But Sterling is reaching and grasping at straws to defend himself and save whatever little credibility he has left.