Freedom of Speech isn’t Free
If you’ve been living under a rock, you probably missed the biggest news in the world of sports these last couple days. The owner of the LA Clippers was given a lifetime ban and fined for making private statements about who he would want at his games and who he thought was too unwhite to attend. For an old man to make racist statements is nothing new. For that old man to be Donald Sterling it isn’t much different than what we knew about him in the past. We’re talking about a man who has been sued for housing discrimination, and sued by a former player and GM for racial discrimination. He wasn’t a good man. Some even described him as a slumlord and not in a good way.
The point is that Donald Sterling has always been a racist. He didn’t just become one. How did this man keep a team for a so long? It only took 4 days from the day the tapes were released to the day he was sent packing. The only answer is that his racism got in the way of the bottom line of the league. It is the only answer. Once the reaction was made and sponsors started to pull out the NBA commissioner only had one solution and that is to get rid of the cancer.
We have rights in this country to say whatever we want. The government isn’t going to throw us in jail. We aren’t going to be put to death for saying we don’t like the president or for voting against him. That is our freedom of speech. We don’t have freedom of consequences. But the only consequence that seemed to matter to the NBA was the loss of money. It just goes to show us that the only way to speak loudly and forcibly is by throwing money at whatever you don’t like. The commissioner of the NBA can say it was because Donald Sterling was a bad guy, but the truth of the matter is, he was a bad guy before the tapes were released and the commissioner had no problem sitting down with him before. Players had no trouble playing for him. The sponsors had no trouble sponsoring him. UCLA had no problem taking his money. The only thing that changed four days ago was that the public had an uproar over it.
I appreciate what the NBA did; there is no place for bigoted minds in the exclusive club of owning a team. But he didn’t just become bigoted is my point. It was all about the money he was costing the league. And it isn’t just the NBA that has reacted that way. Last month the CEO of Firefox was forced to step down because of his involvement in supporting an amendment that banned gay marriage. But that wasn’t the reason he stepped down. The donation was made in 2008. That was 5 years before it was found out. He stepped down because the public found out and it was going to cost the company money. We saw the same thing with Chick-Fil-A.
This isn’t something that is new. Money has always had a bigger part in politics and American culture than anything else. Even racial lines don’t exist as intense as the money lines do. I have more in common with other working men who are black than I do with rich white man. The black men I work with eat the same food as me, go to the same parties, drive the same type of cars, shop at the same places and visit the same entertainment venues. The rich white men I never see out where I am. And that is the problem I am seeing in this Donald Sterling thing. If the money wasn’t being stopped, nothing would have been done.
Some can say that is a good thing. But it is the rich sponsors that are caring about only certain things that are making this a problem. Ray Rice beat his [future] wife and drug her into an elevator not even 3 months ago. He still has the same job he had before the incident and nobody pulled money from the Ravens. According to TMZ the NBA is littered with drug users, the most notable one being Lamar Odom, and he is still getting calls to try out for teams. MLB has the steroid users and they continue to pull money. To me beating a women and dragging her into an elevator is worse than what Donald Sterling said, but Ray Rice isn’t getting banned for life. Drugs cost more lives today than racism does, but nobody is holding money from teams that have known drug users. Steriods have tarnished MLB more than racism has, yet Ryan Braun (the poster boy for steroid use right now) still gets cheered.
The only thing that makes one punishable by being banned and one not is the money factor. If sponsors boycotted Ravens games, Ray Rice would be looking for a new home right now. He wouldn’t be welcomed in the locker room. And that is the problem. Money shouldn’t be the reason someone is punished. But it is the only thing that talks. There was a movie in the 90’s that I loved named ‘Bulworth’. In the movie a senator decides that he is going to get himself killed because he can’t take the pressure of raising money to do his job. Since he is going to die anyway, he starts to tell everyone what he thinks. In the most poignant moment of the movie he goes into a long rap about money in politics:
I gotta raise $10,000 a day every day I’m in Washington
I ain’t getting it in South Central
I’m gettin it in Beverly Hills
So I’m votin from them in the Senate the way they want me to
and-and-and I’m sending them my bills
We got a million brothers in prison
I mean, the walls are really rockin
But you can bet your ass they’d all be out
If they could pay for Johnny
Ok ok I got a simple question that I’d like to ask
Of the network that pays you for performing this task
How come they got the airwaves? They’re the peoples aren’t they?
Wouldn’t they be worth 70 billion to the public today?
If some money-grubbin Congress didn’t give them away
for big campaign money? It’s hopeless you see
you’re runnin for office with out no TV
If you don’t get big money
You get a defeat
Corporations and broadcasters make you dead meat
You been taught in this country there’s speech that is free
But free don’t get you no spots on TV
If you want to have senators not on the take
Then give them free air time
They won’t have to fake
Donald Sterling got what he deserved. But he should have got it sooner. He was a bigot before Thursday. He was also a sexual harasser and a slumlord. The only thing that made the difference now was that money was going to be lost. And that is why freedom of speech isn’t free. Only thing that matters any more is money and people’s unwillingness to lose it. Luckily for me, I can say whatever I want because I don’t have money to lose.