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Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 in Blog, Politics | 8 comments

Defending the Indefensible — NBA Owner Donald Sterling and His Racist Comments




The right of an individual to conduct intimate relationships in the intimacy of his or her own home seems to me to be the heart of the Constitution’s protection of privacy.

— Harry A. Blackmun (Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court)


Privacy is not something that I’m merely entitled to, it’s an absolute prerequisite.

— Marlon Brando (Academy Award-Winning Actor)


*     *     *

By now, just about everyone has heard the outrageous remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, first reported a few days ago.

Sterling, who owns the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers franchise, made some shockingly insensitive verbal remarks with highly-offensive racial overtones during a private telephone call, which was secretly recorded by a former girlfriend.  Now estranged from her former sugar daddy, the gold-digger went public with an abbreviated audio segment of a heated conversation between the two, which included Sterling’s ghastly rant against Black people.

The comments speak for themselves.  They’re as appalling as they are indefensible.  No one can possibly justify the content nor the context in which they were made.  Moreover, they’re consistent with Sterling’s well-documented pattern of discrimination and racial insensitivity as a businessman.

Nevertheless, Sterling does have one credible mode of defense in his corner, and that’s his inherent right to personal privacy.

Let’s get one thing straight.  This was a discrete, off-the-record, behind closed doors telephone call between just two people — namely Sterling and his then-girlfriend/mistress.  She recorded the conversation completely without his knowledge.  California State law is quite clear about this.  The law reads as follows:  California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation.  READ MORE HERE

That the former girlfriend not only recorded a private telephone call, but then later released it publicly (for her own selfish purposes) seems like solid ground for serious monetary damages.  Were I in a position to advise Sterling, I’d suggest filing a civil lawsuit immediately and attach a lot of zeroes to the damages.

Of course, the NBA and its fans are better off knowing Sterling is an avowed racist.  But the law makes no distinction between recording confidential communications for the sake of the common good, versus other motives.

Beyond the cries of “what in the hell do we do with this guy now?” which must be bouncing off the walls at NBA headquarters, this controversy is intriguing because of the potentially-dangerous precedent for future exposures of a similar kind.  All people are entitled to some degree of privacy — especially within their own homes and workplaces, as well as while talking on their telephones.  All people should enjoy the right to speak freely in private conversations without any fear their words will be intercepted, recorded, and disseminated publicly.  After all, who among us hasn’t uttered a foolish remark we wish could be taken back?  Fortunately, most of our telephone conversations aren’t recorded by anyone (aside from the National Security Agency) and won’t ever be used to humiliate us.  No one really cares what we do or what we say — which I suppose has some advantages.

Yet, imagine if you will, the people closest to you secretly recording what you say without your knowledge or consent.  Then sometime later, during a moment of bitterness, a former employee or wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend or in-law or business partner or ex-friend or whoever decides to release an audio recording containing your voice.  Careers could be ruined.  Lives might even be in danger.

Think about it.  Is this really the world we want to live in?  Where we have to fear cameras and microphones?  Where we can’t freely express our emotions to the people who are closest to, even though some of those things we say and believe might be vile?

It’s not enough to simply advise people to watch what they say, even in private.  Fact is, we must be able to vent frustrations and partake in open dialogue.  It’s essential to living in a free society.  We shouldn’t have to worry about listening devices all around us, or former lovers becoming turncoats holding the smoking guns of scandalous recordings.  That’s downright Orwellian.

Even celebrities and public officials are entitled to some measure of personal privacy.  While Sterling is neither a celebrity nor a public official, he is undoubtedly in the public eye, by choice.  But simply being rich and powerful doesn’t disqualify someone from rightful legal protections.

We’ve clearly become a world of voyeurs, with outlets like TMZ (which profit from scandal) as our eyes and ears.  We’re obsessed with celebrities and what they do and say.  With cameras and recording devices now in the palm of every single hand via millions of smart phones, anyone who’s famous must constantly be on guard.  Everyone must be careful.  Nothing is private anymore.  Everyone stands the remote chance that something they say will be recorded and later played back and revealed to the world.  With the explosion of social media, these dangers are multiplied more so since any eyebrow-raising remark is likely to get plastered all over Twitter and Facebook within seconds.  And once it’s said and out there, there’s no way to put the genie back into the bottle.

I don’t see this as a good thing.  Not at all.  Our conversations should be private.  Our phone calls should be protected by law.  The things we say to others within a relationship should be confidential.

Yes, everyone deserves the same right to personal privacy.  This goes for presidents.  This goes for royalty.  This goes for movie stars.  This even goes for bigots.


Postscript:  It was brought to my attention that some if not all of the recordings were made during a face-to-face conversation, and Sterling had expressed his consent to record everything that was said.  Details remain sketchy at the moment and I don’t know if this is true.  But I do want to set the record straight as more details are released.  


Note:  Since the issue is likely to come up, let me address it in advance.  Critics may charge me with hypocrisy, defending Sterling while attacking Cliven Bundy, the outlaw rancher who made remarks of a similar nature last week.  However, Bundy’s comments were said publicly in front of reporters, which makes them fair game.  Bundy knew his comments would be heard and reported.  Conversely, Sterling was speaking privately without the knowledge his comments were being recorded.  In my opinion, that makes this a very different case.



  1. While everyone deserves a right of privacy, no one has an unlimited right. Sterling made these remarks to another party who was under no obligation to keep them private. Did her recording and distribution of these comments violate some state ‘recording’ law, quite possibly. And if indeed they did, she is liable to Sterling. So he may have a remedy. But the issue is not personal privacy. The issue IS his racist remarks and he IS an owner of an NBA team, a business in which the ‘talent’ is overwhelmingly black and minority.

    Dont cry for Argentina or Sterling. Rejoice that this racist and overwhelmingly misguided POS has likely been fully exposed and will hopefully live the rest of his life like the pariah he deserves to be.

    Privacy is hardly burdened by this incident and a substantial justice has been done.

    • I agree with comments by Nolan Dalla. Personal and intimate conversations that are believed to be private should not be used for public retribution, no matter how vile and abhorrent one’s views may be. This sets a negative precedence for illegal wiretapping of government officials, religious leaders, corporate executives and/or any private citizen whose personal privacy can be used for scandal or personal gain. Where is the outrage over an unscrupulous manipulative woman who purposely coaxes, agitates and exploits the vulnerabilities of a person; and secretly records those vulnerabilities for the public?

  2. I largely agree with what you wrote here, and it bothers me that this aspect has basically been absent from the public debate. I have no love or respect for Mr. Sterling, and while he does have a very unpleasant history, apparently, as of last week, it wasn’t so egregious that the NAACP wouldn’t be willing to present him with a second award.

    So, apparently, this level of vilification is appropriate based on the one taped conversation, one illegally obtained recorded conversation that was intended to be private between two people. While the contents of this conversation are nothing short of abhorrent, which of us would like to be judged by the contents of the worst private conversation we’ve ever had? I don’t recall having one myself that’s as monstrous as what Sterling said, but I know there are probably some that, if they got out, wouldn’t be good for me. If I believe it would be unfair to judge me by what I’ve said in my most personal moments, how can I be comfortable with what’s happening here? In any case, while I can’t say that deep down he doesn’t deserve persecution, what’s he’s being punished for comes dangerously close to thought crime. I’m not sure I want to be around the folks who aren’t disturbed by this any more than I want to be around Sterling.

    Of course, I have a hard time understanding this relationship dynamic. Is it really the case that Sterling’s wife is suing Sterling’s girlfriend for $1.8 million at the same time Sterling is asking the girlfriend, someone whose ancestry is part African-American to stop hanging out with black people? Is it also true that to get back at the estranged wife, the girlfriend is outing her boyfriend as a racist? In addition to Sterling’s horrible world views one has to be shocked at his judgement and perhaps even his basic sanity.

    So, in a world of ideal karmic justice, what would I like to see happen? Well, first of all, I’d like to see the girlfriend arrested and imprisoned for her actions. I’d also like to see her behavior admitted as evidence in the lawsuit against her. Then I’d like to see Sterling fined and suspended as the NBA basically has to do. Perhaps a $3.6 million fine, twice what the girlfriend is alleged to have “embezzled” and a suspension until, say, the All Star break next year. Yeah, this won’t change Sterling’s lifestyle, but if he didn’t care about the money, he would have divested most of his holdings when his net worth hit $20 million and retired. Beyond that point, money is really just about keeping score. Then I’d like to see players and coaches who are free agents say, “I’ll evaluate all offers, except those that come from the Clippers.” I’d love to see the Clippers’ draft picks say, “You know what, I’ve got another year of eligibility, I think I’ll go back to school rather than sign with this team.” I’d like to see Sterling have to fill his team roster with D-league players, whom I wouldn’t begrudge taking the pay bump to at least the NBA minimum salary. I’d like to see advertisers and fans stay away from the team’s games in droves. Then, with the franchise back in the crapper where Sterling maintained it for so many years, I’d like to see him feel compelled sell it, hopefully to a coalition of African-American businessmen, perhaps led by the same “Magic” Johnson whose innocent image triggered this whole chain of sordid events.

    Alas, things aren’t likely to work out this way, but I’d like to see the media at least realize that Sterling isn’t the only villain in this melodrama, and acknowledge that if they had been subject to the same level of back-stabbing that he had, they may not come out smelling like roses either. I’d like to see signs that while other folks may not like who Sterling is, they’re uncomfortable with how we found out.

  3. was reported yesterday that she had his permission to record(has over 100 hours of other chats),,tmz reported this with-out revealing the source ??hes a douch yes ! it comes out today that magic n his investors now wanna buy the Clippers , isnt that what brought this fight up ( a picture taken with Magic n girl, before i jump to any conclusions about all this, i may smell a rat, just saying!

  4. I’m surprised this has caused such an uproar given his past history, which is probably worse than this instance of ignorance and stupidity.
    The released tape also indicates his girlfriend leading into to many of the questions, and he clearly states he doesn’t hate blacks. Funny how the media doesn’t acknowledge this.

    Maybe he should hire Sen Reid’s PR firm who covered for him after he fired off this gem…””[Reid] was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Talk about a double standard!!!

    You are correct that Sterling should file civil charges, but more importantly, the IRS should be looking into this gold digger to insure she paid taxes on the millions of gifts and cars. Sounds like these 2 deserved each other.

  5. Mr. Sterling should not be granted freedom of speech as guaranteed by the 1st Ammendment. If he still chooses to exercise his right we should denounce him and shout him down until he conforms to our norms.

  6. We saw McCarthyism in 1950’s where accusations and lack of due process led to personal destruction of innocent victims due to their opinions held.
    This was lesson learned by our country.
    George Santayana wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
    It will be interesting to see how this Sterling incident plays out and the due process followed and what we learn about ourselves in the current political environment.

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