NBA Bans Sterling, And Some Conservatives Need A Lesson In Free Speech, Again

Conservatives love free enterprise and loathe (what they call) big government. But every once in a while (okay, quite often actually) an issue arises where it’s unclear if conservatives hold a consistent viewpoint when it comes to what is or isn’t acceptable or legal in the private sector vs. the public sector. And quite often this creates confusion as to what is or isn’t protected free speech. Take for instance today’s announcement from the NBA that Clippers owner Donald Sterling is banned for life for racist comments that were recorded in private.

NBA bans Donald Sterling for life, fines him $2.5 million for racial comments

The NBA has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million for racial comments he made to his reported girlfriend. The NBA will immediately begin working to try to force him to sell the team.

“The hateful opinions voiced by that of the man [on the tape] are those of Donald Sterling,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “…I’m personally distraught the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations.”

As part of the ban, Sterling is not allowed “to attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.” Sterling also will be barred from attending any Board of Governors meetings and participating in any other league activity.

Some conservatives are reacting to Sterling’s ban with the predictable “What happened to free speech,” or cynically suggesting that we ought to amend the First Amendment to better reflect the conditions of free speech. And of course, we liberals need to remind our conservative friends that the First Amendment protects speech from government censorship, and offers no such protection from private enterprise. That means sponsors are free to discontinue their association with the Clippers, just as the NBA is free to enforce it’s rules and regulations to punish Mr. Sterling.

For those among us who decry big government, and want to privatize public institutions like public schools, parks, and so on, it seems odd that many of them still need to be reminded what freedom of speech really means in America. Maybe if they had a better understanding that big business is often times a dictatorship (sometimes for good, many times not), compared to a democratic government of the people (which is ugly and messy, but the best thing we’ve come up with so far), they would stop short of offering their whole hog support to such a narrow conservative worldview.

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