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Donald Sterling, privacy, hypocrisy and the Thought Police

By Scott Tibbs, May 5, 2014

There is no defending the racist language that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling used in a recorded conversation with his mistress, but the reaction to his words exposes major hypocrisy in the NBA and the pundit class. Furthermore, one very big aspect of this story is being overlooked, which is disappointing if not surprising.

First, let's point out the elephant in the room. That elephant is the fact that Sterling has a mistress young enough to be his granddaughter. He is 80 years old and his mistress is 38 - and he is carrying on with her (and apparently has no problem with her having sex with other people) while he is still married to his wife. If there is no mistress, there is no recorded conversation. How have we gotten to the point that people are more outraged about what a married man says to his mistress than we are about the fact that he has a mistress in the first place?

Also, do we really want to be policing people's private conversations? This is not a situation where someone posted something stupid, ignorant and offensive on Facebook and then whined about privacy when it went viral. This was a truly private, one-on-one conversation between two individuals.

There is not one single person on the planet who has never said something in private that he or she regrets. All of us - including Sterling's fiercest critics - have said things in private that we would be utterly horrified to see transcribed on the front page of the newspaper or available for download on the Internet. Exactly how far are we going to go with this? What is fair game? In the digital age, do we truly have any privacy at all? Again, there is no way to defend what Sterling said, but this is disturbing and sets a dangerous precedent. Do we now have to watch everything we say in private?

As NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pointed out, Sterling has been a racist and shady businessman for a long time. Former commissioner David Stern should have instituted a lifetime ban when Sterling was found to have broken federal law by refusing to rent to blacks and Hispanics in his apartment buildings. No one was actually harmed by Sterling's private conversation with his mistress, but people suffered real harm from Sterling's corrupt real estate dealings. To be offended now, and not then, shows obscene hypocrisy on the part of the NBA.

We should not forget that the NAACP was prepared to give him a "lifetime achievement award" before the recording was revealed - despite his illegal racist discrimination in his real estate business.

The NBA could have (and should have) brought down the hammer on Sterling years ago for his despicable (not to mention illegal) racist behavior, but is spurred to action now after a private conversation was recorded and posted to the internet. The fall of Donald Sterling has worrisome implications far beyond how it impacts a corrupt businessman in Los Angeles. The angry mob that sacked Sterling (especially those who are public figures) could well see themselves getting picked off in the future for things they thought were private but wind up on the Internet anyway.

We are not going to like where this leads.