The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 10, 2014

Sterling decision tarnishes Silver and Constitution

The Back Porch

By Nerissa Young
Columnist

— Until a few days ago, Americans had the constitutional right to be jackasses.

Nevermore, quoth the raven, Edgar Allan Poe and NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

He has decreed National Basketball Association team owners may no longer utter offensive speech, but an even more ominous loss is that of personal property for uttering said speech.

Sounds more like communist China than the good, ’ol U.S. of A.

Silver took Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to an NBA-sized wood shed after taped comments of Sterling saying things about black players came to light. At an April 29 news conference, he imposed a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban for the rowdy Sterling.

Silver said: “Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team. He will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings or participating in any other league activity.”

In other words, he can never pass Go and collect $200.

Silver’s level of mortification is laudable. And his quick action speaks well, too. We could have used him during the hunt for bin Laden.

In responding to Sterling’s offensive comments, Silver overreached into territory that only Congress and voters must navigate together — amending the Constitution to ban what some people consider offensive actions by others. And he compounded that overreach with this threat:

“As for Mr. Sterling’s ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens.”

A reporter followed up with this question, “Should someone lose their team for remarks shared in private as this is a slippery slope?”

Silver responded, “Whether or not these remarks were initially shared in private, they are now public, and they represent his views.”

Yikes!

What if every stupid thing we said meant we could lose our property? I’d have been sharing a cardboard box with somebody decades ago.

I wasn’t present when Sterling made his comments. He may very well be a jackass, but I would defend to the end his right to say things with which I disagree.

Heck, people say stuff I disagree with all the time. Almost daily, I hear profanity and the Lord’s name taken in vain, but I don’t run around yelling “Citizen’s arrest!” and banning everybody from my aura. Nor do I confiscate their bikes and cars. I consider the source and move on.

When the founders looked for wisdom in writing what became the Bill of Rights, they did not consult English common law. They looked to many English philosophers who spoke of the importance of a free spirit and the necessity of freedom of thought

Engage in trash talk about Sterling. Tweet mean things about him. Write a letter criticizing him. Call him names. Post unflattering videos to YouTube.

More speech, not less, is the antidote to so-called “bad” speech. And folks can bet that sometime, somewhere, they will be the ones in the minority and will want their speech protected.

Silver said: “My message to the Clippers fans is this league is far bigger than any one owner, any one coach, any one player. This institution has been around for a long time, and it will stand for a long time, and I have complete confidence in Doc Rivers, in the basketball management of that club, and the players deserve their support.”

Mr. Silver, the Constitution is bigger than any one person, thank God. It’s also been around a lot longer than the NBA.

Sterling is probably an idiot, but you sound like a fascist. I’ll take my chances with the idiot.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist.

E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com.

© 2014 by Nerissa Young