Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

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By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

The Sterling effect


When the taped conversation between Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and his friend/girlfriend/mistress V. Stiviano was leaked recently, a righteous uproar rose from National Basketball Association players, coaches, owners, media, down to people on the street, who rightly denounced his racist epithets against African Americans. Even though the released conversation was supposedly only a snippet of more than an hour of talk between the two, it contained statements like, “Don’t put him on an Instagram... And don’t bring him to my games,” referring to a picture of Stiviano and Magic Johnson. 

There is no defense for a man with a history of racism who was finally brought down by a stupid statement made public by a close associate. Indeed, he has fought off (and paid off) lawsuits from the Department of Justice accusing him of forcing blacks and Latinos out of his rental properties, and refusing to rent to African Americans in Beverly Hills. In comparison, his statements regarding Magic Johnson were minor. Still offensive, mind you. Still hostile and racist, but minor nonetheless.

That’s not to say that I’m defending Sterling. I’m not. His bigoted behavior finally caught up to him. As soon as the tape became public he effectively lost control of his team. There’s no place for a racist owner in a business that is 80 percent black, and there’s no way he could have maintained any level of authority or respect. Advertisers abandoned him. Team members were prepared to boycott games. He was, in essence, done prior to the fine and lifetime ban imposed by the NBA.

But here’s the kicker. There’s more to this situation than Sterling’s immoral behavior and the knee-jerk responses from virtually everyone who heard about it. Two questions came to my mind almost immediately. First, what was the context in which he made the statements? And second, do we have the right to say whatever we want in the privacy of our homes?

No one has yet pinpointed the motive behind Stiviano’s leak of the recording. Her attorney has taken the fifth amendment to avoid incriminating himself, so perhaps he spilled the beans. But how did he get his hands on it in the first place? Did Stiviano goad Sterling on? Did she set him up? Of course, even if she did he still made the statements, and if he hadn’t he’d still be running the Clippers. She’s said, in a bit of outrageous, ridiculous self-aggrandizement, that she wants to be president of the United States someday. Good luck, V. So was this just a bit of awful publicity for her? And if she either had it in for him or was simply looking for a way to bolster herself, shouldn’t she be held at least partly accountable?

Then there’s the question of conversations at home. California law states that both parties must be aware that a conversation is being recorded for it to be legal, and I bet this comes up in a court of law. And on a larger scale, who among you has not made a stupid joke at home? Have you ever said something that, if it saw the light of day, would be denounced? Have you ever put on a bad accent, imitated someone in bad taste, told a joke that uses racial stereotypes, is anti-women, anti-something? Do you ever call white tank tops “wife beaters”? Do your children ever call behavior “so gay”? I wish it weren’t so. I wish people everywhere only had good taste, only said nice things, only had rainbow thoughts. But that’s not the case. I know I could be castigated for any number of ridiculous comments or ways I’ve poked fun at people ... in private. If one of my kids happened to record me in one of those moments, and then posted it online, people might not like it, but should I have my public life effectively end because of it? Should I be sued, penalized, punished for my behavior behind the walls I own? I’m not so sure.

It’s sad enough that Donald Sterling was born Donald Tokowitz to Jewish immigrants who fled Europe. What frightens me even more is that I might now have to watch every word that comes out of my mouth for fear that someone may be, not just listening, but recording on their smart phone for release to TMZ.

And that’s the good word.

Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com.


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