If only the NBA had been in charge of punishing Paula Deen
There’s no telling if the league’s decision to ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life will stand up in court. He may have a case on several grounds, including free speech.
But for now, the NBA proved itself one of the few groups willing to take fast, decisive action in response to bigotry. Maybe Sterling, a billionaire, will be able to fight the order in court. But the NBA has taken a big stand based on ideas, saying that in its ideal world — one unfettered by legalities — it wants nothing to do with him and his prejudices.
Even if it ultimately amounts to a symbolic gesture, it’s a huge gesture.
We all know the familiar cycle when someone is accused of doing something terrible. People are outraged. They vent for a few days or weeks. And then nothing happens.
Deen lost her job with the Food Network last year after it came out that she has used the N-word and once plotted a plantation-themed wedding. But she’s already mounting a comeback.
When Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” likened homosexuality to bestiality — among other comments — he was suspended. And just as quickly unsuspended. A&E Networks waited until a slow holiday week to bow to pressure from his supporters.
The NBA knew the world was watching — and didn’t flinch. It confirmed the veracity of recordings in which Sterling said he didn’t want his girlfriend appearing with black people or bringing them to games. And then it acted.
We all know the lifetime ban probably won’t be a lifetime ban if Sterling, at 80, somehow has a real and convincing change of heart. People have the option of forgiving him, if they want to.
But for now, this feels like the first time in a long time the people in charge have made a gutsy, gut-level decision.
I think private citizens, by the way, have a right to be racist. Or homophobic, or sexist, or otherwise terrible.
But businesses also have every right to cut ties with terrible people.
This is a rare case of the marketplace making one of those corrections we’re so often promised. The NBA, a business built largely on the achievements of black players and coaches, and the support of fans of all races, realized it was horrible business to let the likes of Donald Sterling hold a powerful position.
It was the right thing to do, from a business standpoint. But it was also the right thing to do.