The Cost of Donald Sterling’s Private Words — Have We Become Big Brother?

The Cost of Donald Sterling’s Private Words — Have We Become Big Brother?
Big Brother was watching Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling: Racist!  Now that the NBA has taken quick and decisive (and appropriate) action, people across America dance around the fire kindled by Donald Sterling and his morally bankrupt views.  As I listened to sports talk radio the last day or so, it had a feeling of Oz as the Munchkins deliriously sang “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” around the carcass of the Wicked Witch of the East. 

As many commentators on the subject of Donald Sterling were transported to Oz, I find myself in the Orwellian fantasy, 1984.  In 1984, the reader is transported to a place where the government seizes complete control of individualism for the greater good.  The government, or Big Brother, manipulates its citizenry by keeping television monitors—telescreens—in every workplace and home around the country, Oceania.  Big Brother’s surveillance is such that the monitors are not only in workplaces, but in private bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms, monitoring the citizen’s every move, looking for even the slightest hint of subversive thought against Big Brother.  The regime, through the Thought Police, monitors how passionately an individual sings patriotic songs.  Big Brother pits co-workers, neighbors and even family members against each other seeking the betrayal of others for thoughts subversive to Big Brother. 

As the whole Donald Sterling media circus has gone on, I can’t get the feeling out of my head that WE’VE become Big Brother.   

Rather than telescreens, we now have smart phones in every room that can record private conversations with impunity.   The omnipresent media has become the Thought Police. 

We are Big Brother.     

And although his comments are repugnant, I have a problem that I know about them.   Donald Sterling trusted the wrong person to share his most private thoughts with.  But that WE know about that private conversation creates a big problem for the rest of us.   When is a private moment truly private?  When does something I tell a friend in confidence stay secret?  Truthfully, I’ve sat at poker tables in company of friends where I’ve said and heard things that were more appropriate for the Miami Dolphins’ locker room.  I certainly did not want those thoughts transmitted publically.  Be honest when you look in the mirror: So have you.

That is something ESPN writer Jason Whitlock eloquently wrote about yesterday:       

       In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for         his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.

                       *                      *                      *

            Mob rule is dangerous. Well-intentioned, TV-baited mobs are the most dangerous. They do not consider the consequences of their actions, and they're prone to take a simple-    minded, instant-gratification approach to justice rather than a strategic one.

                        *                      *                      *

            Let's be careful here. From the owner's box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make "pillow talk" public and the standard is set that "pillow talk" is actionable, it won't be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island.


Do you want YOUR private thoughts getting out?  Should they?  We all have prejudices and biases that were shaped by our individual environments and our larger society.  Do you want someone secretly recording those biases in a private moment and communicating those publically? 

Should we condone that?  Is that OK?

Don’t get me wrong, by banning Donald Sterling the NBA did the right thing.  However, it did so for the wrong reasons.   Donald Sterling’s racist beliefs were well-known and not so secret within the NBA, as Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski noted:

            There were no revelations on those racist tapes for the commissioner and Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. There were no revelations for NBA executives and coaches and veteran players. Most understood the truth about this wretched man, but Stern and the rest of the NBA's owners had resisted confrontation and executed a failed strategy of waiting for him to fade away. In the end, the NBA left Sterling to prosper as a necessary evil – only until his bizzaro personal life collided with his insane worldviews to create hours upon hours of TMZ and Deadspin content.

Ultimately, it was the public relations nightmare Sterling created for the NBA that led to his ouster, not his already well known beliefs.   So, although applause for the new NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, may be appropriate for getting it right, don’t stand up and cheer for an NBA that allowed this man the privilege of owning one of its franchises for decades.  Financially, Sterling will make out very well with a sale of the Clippers—forced or otherwise.  He paid $12.5 million for the team in 1981; a sale of that team today could fetch over $1 billion.  Some of Sterling’s biggest detractors—the club members who are other owners of NBA teams—allowed him to make that profit.

So, later today, when your torch goes out with the last refrain of “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead”, take a second and think about what happened here.  A man was publically excoriated for a private thoughts made during pillow talk.  So mob members, when you shut the door to your home and lock it up tight, part of your bedtime prayer should be that your roommate, spouse, partner or  child didn’t record you sounding like Archie Bunker (or George Jefferson) while relaxing and enjoying a drink in your home.   Otherwise, you could wake up and find the mob at YOUR door

Filed under: Race in America

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