Sterling launches aggressive defense

The NBA’s issue with Clippers owner Donald Sterling became an NFL issue the moment Commissioner Roger Goodell said publicly that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver “made the right decision.”

Sterling, despite reports suggesting he was ready to go away quietly, strongly disagrees.  In his formal filing to the NBA’s Board of Governors in response to the penalties imposed by Silver — lifetime ban, $2.5 million fine, and requirement to sell the team — Sterling makes arguments that will force the NBA, the NFL, and other sports leagues to consider more carefully the question of whether Sterling’s punishment fits his crime.

Sterling repeatedly argues that his shocking, blatantly racist remarks were made privately during a “lover’s quarrel” and were “illegally recorded.”  One on hand, it doesn’t matter how the world gets a glimpse of the contents of a person’s soul.  On the other hand, a large chunk of George Orwell’s vision of the future has come to fruition, with the role of Big Brother being played by anyone and everyone with a handheld device that can record audio and/or video.

“We do not believe a court in the United States of America will enforce the draconian penalties imposed on Mr. Sterling in these circumstances, and indeed, we believe that preservation of Mr. Sterling’s constitutional rights requires that these sham proceedings be terminated in Mr. Sterling’s favor,” Sterling’s submission argues.

Regardless of the contents of Sterling’s comments, the circumstances of the manner in which they were harvested raises the stakes not only for sports owners but for anyone and everyone whose words uttered in private and under the application of various stressors may or may not reflect what they truly and actually believe.

It’s hard to open the mind and accept that point in connection with Sterling, who started this excursion as an unsympathetic figure and whose image somehow became even worse after Sterling decided to sit for an interview with Anderson Cooper. But if the perception/reality that Sterling is a scoundrel influences the ultimate outcome, an unfortunate precedent could be set for the many non-scoundrels who may end up in similar predicaments.

Speaking of precedent, Sterling’s submission identifies various other infractions committed by NBA players, executives, and owners that have resulted in far lesser penalties. Setting aside the question of whether the same standard should be applied to owners and players, Sterling points out that one owner donated $500,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, prompting a call for a boycott from LGBT advocacy groups. (While not identified by Sterling, he’s apparently referring Doug DeVos of the Orlando Magic.)

“On the topic of HIV/AIDS, the same owner had this to say in an interview 2010,” Sterling’s submission states. “‘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.'”

Sterling points out that the NBA took no action in either situation.

“No owner, coach, or player has ever been fined close to $2.5 million, banned for life, and forced to sell their property for any offense, let alone an alleged private speech-related offense,” Sterling’s submission contends. “The NBA claims a commitment to diversity and inclusion, but it appears to have ignored many public statements undermining those principles in the past. In fact, the only permanent bans of record — other than the ban the Commissioner currently requests — involve gambling violations and repeated violations of the NBA’s substance-abuse policy. And further, as far as Mr. Sterling is aware, no one in the NBA has ever been punished for speaking in a private constitutionally protected setting.”

Again, Sterling deserves no sympathy. But the handling his situation sets a precedent for the NBA and, presumably, the NFL; otherwise, Goodell wouldn’t have publicly praised Silver for making the right decision.

Goodell has a chance to apply that precedent in the case of Colts owner Jim Irsay, whose transgression consisted of allegedly driving an automobile while under the influence of potent medications. Reasonable minds could conclude that creating a public-safety hazard is far worse than making convoluted private statements in the heat of an argument with a love interest that were illegally recorded.  It remains to be seen how Goodell’s mind processes the situation in light of the proposed Sterling penalties.

56 responses to “Sterling launches aggressive defense

  1. Stop trying to connect Sterling and Irsay that like comparing apples to oranges. While Irsay did something wrong the only thing sterling is guilty of is being stupid.

    But I have to give it you with the “On the other hand, a large chunk of George Orwell’s vision of the future has come to fruition, with the role of Big Brother being played by anyone and everyone with a handheld device that can record audio and/or video.” that truely is what is happening in this country/world. And we must not let it continue. Privacy laws need to be strengthened and enforced.

  2. If he’s comparing racism to being in favor of traditional marriage and stating that AIDS is contracted through a person’s actions, he deserves whatever punishment he gets.

  3. Sterling’s arguments miss the mark — especially that ridiculous remark about his constitutional rights, which don’t apply to private actors like the NBA.

    What Sterling said was race-based and offensive to his most important employees, and equally important employees of other teams.

    With players across league threatening a boycott, what choice did Silver and the NBA have?

    What choice does the NBA have now?

    Replacement players?

  4. Here comes all the dirty laundry. I understand the PR pressure to ban the guy and make the Twitter feeds happy, but did you really think he wouldn’t try to drag the rest of the owners down with him? This guy has been around for decades and knows all the dirt, you should have censured him and then found a way to ease him out to pasture via the back door. Instead, you removed any incentive he might have had to play ball — while dealing with a guy who obviously says whatever he wants. Hopefully Goodell is still taking notes, but I doubt it.

  5. Good for him, I am sure 95% of the population if they had the wrong private conversation recorded would be in trouble. This includes everyone. If people can not have conversations in their own house and say whatever they want to say when they want to say it, then everyone must live to a different standard. A standard that no one, I repeat no one can live up to. I have my issue with race, I will admit it, but you know what, there was a group where I live that formed a task force to eliminate violence that some urban youth live with daily. ( yes they are black) but you know what we donated to the cause.. For whatever issues I have, and why I have them (note they might be legitimate) I hate to see young people exposed to that kind of environment whether they are white, black, red or purple, and I hope and pray that they solve the problem. I feel for families fighting things like that daily. But if you want to record one of my private conversations and play it in public than please show my whole body of work. Not just one conversation.

  6. Conduct detrimental … gives either league license to take any action they deem appropriate.

    “One on hand, it doesn’t matter how the world gets a glimpse of the contents of a person’s soul.”

  7. Imagine if Charles Barkley, was a team owner, and echoed similar sentiments in the other direction.

    Would there have been equal moral outrage?

    Would Silver have taken 30 seconds to impose the maximum $2,500,000.00 fine?

    Would Silver have banned Barnkely from the NBA for life?

    Would Silver have forced Barkley to divest himself of a $1,000,000,000.00+ asset?

    Would the public laud Silver if he had imposed all those penalties on Barkley?

    Pardon the pun, but I suspect we’d all just get a CHUCKle — the prevailing theme being summed up with something like, “Ohhhh, that’s just Charles being Charles.”

  8. This is pretty much all David Stern’s fault. Knew Sterling was a racist for a very long time, pretty much enabled him by ignoring all the racist stuff he got away with.

  9. Too bad he is not being booted due to his racist remarks which he should be. He is being booted because those remarks came to light and caused sponsors and players to talk of boycott and hurting the bottom line. He is right that private speech in ones home should not be used against you but at the same time he fails to realize that that is not why the NBA booted him. The NBA’s stance is his words becoming public caused harm to the league, so you can say what you want privately and publicly but once that starts to affect the bottom line your done. This is a private business not a public one. From what I have read the NBA has all the right to make that determination.

    Anyways……Sterling is a racist chump that should get kicked out anyway. Hate another person for real reasons. That reason should be due to actions committed upon you and not based on their ethnicity. We all judge people in some sense but we need to stop judging groups of people and start judging individuals, while understanding that judgment should come from experience’s with that individual and not just pulled out of one’s behind because of an experience he had with another individual that looked the same. That time will come. Not fast enough though.

  10. Fight them Donald! Where’s they outrage over the MSNBC host Toure’s comments about “power of whiteness’ over the concentration camps. Or laughing at Romney’s family for adopting a black child.

    You don’t have to agree with what people say or their opinions, but freedom os speech means you can say what you feel.

    Stealing a man’s business & his money over comments is ridiculous.

  11. Donald Sterling, regardless of your opinion of him and his opinions, has rights. Whether or not his conversation was ‘illegally’ recorded depends on the state laws. Some states are ‘one party’ states where only one person in a conversation must be aware of the recording being made, regardless of how many other parties are involved. Other states require all parties be aware.

    Either way, this will not be easy for the NBA, though I think in the end, the Clippers get sold.

  12. NEWSFLASH: Chuck Barley is not a team owner and if he were and did something to damage the other owners’ pocketbook, he would be punished.

    People pointing out double standards that don’t exist are reaching. Sterling is not the only bigoted owner, but he’s on record.

  13. As far as I am aware, hate-speech is actually NOT protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.

    The fact that he said these things in private is the only thing going in Sterling’s direction.

  14. What he did was disgusting, but it is scary to think private conversations can be policed… Let the players boycott and the public not pay to go his team’s games – that is way to sift out folks like this.

  15. They don’t need the rascism charge to get him out…that’s for the sponsors to use as a reason for leaving. Them leaving and the money being hurt is all the ammo the league needs. I don’t see why the court would care to get involved unless he can prove his remarks didn’t hurt the league financially and in the publics perception…which he can’t….because it did.

  16. I think his defense isn’t as aggressive as it could be, I think the best point he could make is something that isn’t even mentioned at all, but I won’t suggest it and give him any ideas.

  17. He’s got a point about the lifetime ban. Gambling is really the only way to get yourself banned for life from your sport.

    Having someone illegally record an owner saying something unpopular doesn’t even come close to gambling on your own sport. No way the punishment for that fits the crime.

  18. Whichever side you personally fall on this, can we all agree on one absolutely unavoidable unforgettable undeniable fact?

    Basketball sucks and football rules!


  19. This really is not as open and shut as people think it is. And, I promise you that the other NBA Owners are real nervous about this vote because they know themselves that something that simple can get you ousted, which doesn’t apply in the real world. You don’t get your business taken away if you make racially insensitive comments.

    I think Sterling is nothing short of a turd, and I don’t believe that he has the right to be an owner of any team in any league, but taking his team away (from nothing but a legal perspective) should not happen as easily as the NBA is making it sound. This one can drag out forever if legality is allowed to enter into the process.

  20. Good article Florio. Yes it sets a freaking precedent. You cannot secretly record anyone in there home them assuming everything they say is private the take punitive action for nothing more than someone being a bigot. You may not like it, it my repulse you, whatever. We are still free people that solely given to us by God and not the legal system. We have ALL sinned and fallen short. This is words at a time with a paid women for sex trying to extort him. You wanna do this then the unintended consequences of Pandora’s box shall be opened. Good article Mike. Leave Sterling alone and get over it. Stop buying anything Clippers if you want. Adam Silver your FIRED!!! Emotional leadership. How unsteady???

  21. As distasteful as it may seem he is absolutely correct. Tying Irsay to this is foolish because his argument doesn’t require anybody else’s stupidity to make it valid. The conversation was recorded illegally and is inadmissible in any legal setting and in that state is actually criminal to tape someone without their consent to avoid just such circumstances. As much as we all hate it, the new NBA commish overstepped his bounds and has tarnished his own image by rushing to appease the screaming masses then trying to wash his hands. Fined, yes, banned for life, never going to happen.

  22. First off, I should note that I’m from L.A. So I’ve both added perspective and a degree of bias.

    That said…

    Sterling has a horrific track record. He’s scum, simply put. Stern was too timid to take him on while Silver apparently is not and took the first chance to go after Sterling.


    Even if you completely throw out what Sterling said on the taped conversation, he went out and essentially made similar statements in his nationally televised interview where he “apologized” in Sterling fashion.

    He has alienated fans, players, sponsors, etc. And as an owner he is not allowed to demarcate when and where he can fall under scrutiny. If he doesn’t like that, then he should not have kept the Clippers.

    Just as with conduct policies in the NFL, you can be viewed to disgrace the game, the league, the team, your players and yourself, whether you are an owner or player or staff member.

    Take a look at Al Campanis’s case with the Dodgers. Say the wrong thing, it CAN cost you your career if it damages the game not to take punitive measures to separate itself from you and your expressions.

    Sterling can make all the arguments he wants. He can waste time and money. He will not be able to keep the fans, sponsors, much less the players or coaches on his side. He has already lost.

    What he’s really trying to do is part of his M.O. Make the other side bleed as much as possible. Sterling is a man who, if he had the nuclear codes and knew he was dying, would take the world with him, just for spite.

    Simply put: There’s NO way he comes out of all this clean and with a team behind him. He’s doomed and can bloody other people’s noses in his struggle all he wants, but in the end he’s ALREADY LOST.

    And (in advance) GOOD RIDDANCE!

  23. So every person who “privately’ makes a racial comment or even joke , being it a black man making a racist comment/ joke with his friends about a white or Asian man in PRIVATE. Or a White man doing the same about a Black man or Asian man. You saying they should be fired from their jobs, fined millions of dollars and banned for life. Not to mention dragged through the ringer? I have been in corrections for 25+ years. I hear racial comments not daily but hourly. Some about me ( I’m not white) and some against my white friends that are C/O’s. If that bothers other Black men, then I feel sorry for them. Everybody ( including me) has made some sort of racial comment. Everybody has laughed at a racist joke ( I for one love black jokes..I can laugh at them as my White buddies laugh when i tell one) I know they respect me as i do them. Bottom line is Sterling is a simple man and he is a horrible racist. But, he broke no laws, he didn’t physically hurt anybody. Losing his whole life over comments that are not against the law seams like the NBA wanted to please the public knowing Sterling could win the fight in court. He says he will sell the team..i say let him move on quietly stop bringing his name up and move on. Next time YOU make a racist comment in a joke or anger, think about what happened to Sterling ..Should the same fate happened to you for it?

  24. Get your popcorn ready. Remember the only Apple Super Bowl ad? Where’s the woman with the sledge hammer when u need her.

  25. Good for Donald!!!
    This is America, and we should be able to speak our opinions without overzelous PC watchdogs threatening to take our property if our opinions do not match theirs.

    I have a right to say what I believe, in my own home, without fear of someone threatening to take away my home.

  26. You should be able to say anything you want in the privacy of your own home without fear of retribution. This is not Russia,China or North Korea. Let’s keep it that way.

  27. You could very easily compare Sterlings racist comments to Charles Barkley, then an all-star player commenting to a teammate while on camera that he ‘hates white people’. Despite being married to one. He continues to remain a very visible, Emmy award winning journalist, and one of the faces of the NBA.

    Kobe Bryant was sitting on the bench during a game when he hurled a derogatory word towards gay people at a referee.

    Neither were banned for life.

    Sterling, as despicable of a person as he is, will manage to dig up dirt on plenty of his fellow owners.

    Right, wrong, or indifferent the NBA waded into a PR nightmare, and if this goes to court I don’t really see how the NBA can prove an illegally recorded conversation is just cause for a willful violation of the leagues constitution to force someone into selling their property.

    While he bought the Clippers in the early 80s for peanuts compared to what he stands to sell them for now, he will also have a case that not only is the NBA attempting to fine him 2.5M, but by forcing him to sell now he will owe 300-500M in capital gains tax, which despite his wealth is not an insignificant amount for anyone.

  28. I think the comments by posters here reflect what is likely the overwhelming opinion of free speech (even racist free speech) and privacy protection rights. While hate speech is not protected by the Constitution I ask what the definition of hate speech is and can it force the sale of private property? This whole issue becomes moot if the Clippers lose their sponsors, and the players boycott the games. At that point Sterling owns a bankrupt franchise with no source of revenue except potential judgments after protracted legal actions.

  29. Recorded “illegally”. First, no it wasn’t. Second, you’re not being charged with a crime. Third, no amendments were violated. Fourth, there are consequences to what one says, no matter where it’s said or to whom it’s said. Fifth, racism said in private is still racism, and it can get you fired and/or fined by the private entity that you belong to. Sixth, if you don’t think this can happen, then how come every billionaire can’t just buy or form a professional team and play in the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc.?

  30. The NBA already has a predetermined outcome for this situation – to force Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers – and the NBA has already predetermined who the new owner will be: Earvin “Magic” Johnson

  31. If any of you made a racist/sexist/ joke in private and it somehow got into your boss’s hands….and your client’s hands… you not think there would be consequences?

  32. We need to set freedom of speech and expression aside for a moment. Nobody denies that those are rights we should all enjoy.

    BUT, the comments attributed to Sterling, regardless how how they were procured and made public make him COMPLETELY non-viable as an NBA franchise owner. As if players, fans, sponsors and politicians won’t boycott a racist franchise owner because he was done dirty by a mistress.

  33. Anyways, on the point that some blacks are every bit as racist as some whites are, I’d agree.

    On the point of should he be forced to sell the team?
    Put yourself in the seats of all the other owners:

    1. Apparently every player on every playoff team, white, black, American or foreign was going to boycott every playoff game. Probably all the coaches too. That means every owner in the game loses a ton of money. In America, money over everything. The color that discriminates the most is GREEN.

    2. In two days, 12 sponsors suspended their cash from the Clippers. It was going to get a lot worse, and worse for EVERYBODY. Combine that with lost revenue from all their current players refusing to play for them next year, and very few players wanting to play for them at ALL. Does everyone realize the Clips were about to go into financial hell, and drag every other owner down with them? Capitalism kills you if no one wants to buy your crappy product. The scoreboard says MONEY OVER EVERYTHING.

    3. No one goes to basketball games to watch a fat old man in a recliner. You can see that at MY house. You go to basketball games to watch basketball players play basketball. Black, white, American or foreign, Sterling offended ALL the players, if you actually listen to what he said. With the exception of the last three years, the Clippers have had the worst ownership in professional sports since 1981. If owners were judged like players are, he’d have been out of basketball years ago. And whether anyone likes it or not, Magic Johnson made more money for all of basketball than Donald Sterling ever did.

    Yeah. For the good of the basketball players, the basketball coaches, every other basketball owner, basketball fans and the entire sport of basketball, Sterling needs to sell the Clippers.

    Can we get back to football now, please?

  34. Its really quite simple. What he said and what he believes is appalling. It is not illegal. As an American, he has every right to feel that way and act that way. If we start forcing people to sell their business because of their beliefs, then we are in trouble. The sponsorships, attendance, and viewers will decide just how appalled they are by this.

  35. For everyone calling Sterlings comments “horrible”, “racist”, and “biggoted”, please explain to the rest of us what exactly Sterling said that was so horrible and deserves such a punishment.

    All I heard was that he asked his girlfriend to quit putting pictures on instagram with other guys (who happened to be black), and quit bringing those guys to the game. When baited, he did say that black people are great and that she should love them every day of the week. What exactly is so bad?

  36. Here is a novel thought, maybe having some taste, decency and respect for other people can actually keep someone out of trouble. Maybe, just maybe, having some taste, decency and respect for other people will allow one not to worry about their “racial private conversations.” Look people, too much is given, much is required.” Sterling flat got caught slipping. He mouthed off to the wrong girl and he got caught up. His behavior alone could be argued not to pass muster with the league’s by laws. I compare it to this. If you are in a home owners association and you don’t follow the bylaws of said organization, that HOA can put a lien on your house. Then you are on the street. This is the price you have paid to move in that certain neighborhood. To me, same goes in the exclusive club of owning a professional sports franchise.

  37. This is going to get really ugly when he sells this team. Would love to see the NBA get involved and try to get Magic as the owner.

    That would be just lovely for the NBA to force sterling to sell his team for hundreds of millions less than he can.

  38. On another note please dont feel bad for Sterling that 1.5bn-2bn that he will get will be just alright. Also one shouldnt be surprised that he wants to go down being the litigious person that he is.

  39. While I don’t like the precendent being set because of his “private” conversation, I can’t help but think… boo frickin’ hoo!!! They’re making you sell a team for close to $1 BILLION that you bought for $18 million… sell the team, swim in your money for the rest of your short racist life, and be happy… we should have so many problems.

  40. Sterling signed documents agreeing to be judged by his NBA business partners. That happens on June 3. Case closed.

    As for the tapes? Sterling got caught up in a Pay-For-Play relationship. Something that was apparently condoned by his wife. Well, she was OK with everything but the money. None of this would have happened if she hadn’t tried to claw back the cash. The Sterlings, those poor innocent victims, had played this game before. Let the husband go ‘Street Mode’, pay-for-playing with his wrinkly arse, then wifey uses lawyers to get the money back. He is getting what was coming to him! No pity here.

  41. MISSING THE POINT! It’s not what Sterling said or what he believes. It is the effect it has had and may have on the NBA brand.

    The NBA is a club with club by laws. They can vote him out and they will. It’s about the bottomline folks.

    I’m sure even the lowest information bigot, can understand that. Cost the league money and you’re out.

  42. Dan Snyder, take notes! On June 3, Donald Sterling will understand that his business partners have come to the conclusion that he is bad for business, and must go. Sooner or later, the NFL owners will come to the same conclusion about Mr. Snyder. It will be smarter to just get rid of him, rather than lose money and damage the NFL Brand.

  43. Soooo I’m just going to point out that discrimination is illegal. Racism however is not.

  44. “9/10 of the law is possession; 9/10 of life is position” Mr. Sterling position in life hold massive weight due to his power, resource, and responsiblity. In comparison to what a judicial judge would have. We cant have judges convicting masses amount of African American men and women due to the superiority complex. Words have consequences and his intent may have been different but the position he chosen to hold requires a standard of excellence. This nation is a forgiving nation especially in the African American community instead he chose to further inflict anger towards a man who many African American admired. Mr. Sterling probably been jerking the government for years now it the government that he more than likely gon need to help him in this matter. these are jus my unprofessional oppinion.

  45. Thank you Mike Florio for that bit about Orwellianism…you are absolutely correct, sorry to say.

  46. In order to be an owner in the NBA you must agree to abide by the bylaws. One of these bylaws says that if you conduct yourself poorly and cause detriment to the league, the league HAS THE RIGHT TO FORCE YOU OUT.
    Go ahead, be outraged that a private conversation got out to the public.
    None of that matters. Only the WRITTEN RULES matter. And Sterling broke those rules.

  47. Does anybody really believe that the NBA owners are going to vote to give the commissioner the power to force them to sell their teams, especially given the circumstances of how the conversation even took place?

    Mark Cuban has already pubicly voiced his own trepidation over doing just that, so I don’t think it’s going to happen. And the fact that the owners need to vote on this issue strongly implies that the penalty imposed is not currently permitted without owner approval.

    And what happens if they don’t vote to force him to sell next week?

    Adam Silver has painted the league into a corner from a PR perspective that may very well kill the Golden Goose if that comes to pass, because there was no righteous indignation from anyone associated with the league–not the players, not the coaches, not the referees, not the owners, and definitely not the league administrators (including the current commissioner)–when Sterling was found guilty of and fined for discriminatory housing practices. His beliefs and practices are nothing new, so it paints the picture that the NBA doesn’t care about racism unless that racism is directed toward past and present members of the league fraternity.

    Make no mistake, Donald Sterling is the problem. But the NBA didn’t take a stand against his racist tendencies despite multiple opportunities to do so previously, and now they have set themselves up for a protracted legal battle that they will have a hard time winning regardless of the direction the winds of public opinion blow. If they force his hand and try to push him out against his will, I can’t see this ending well at all for anyone.

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