Reader M_Young tipped me off to this PBS NewsHour episode from yesterday in which two guests discussed the Donald Sterling ban from the NBA. At about the 13-minute mark, Grantland staff writer Charles Pierce begins talking, and ends by raising the possibility — with apparent approval — that the NBA should go after the DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic and funders of political ads in marriage referendum states that Pierce describes as “anti-gay,” but which a huge number of Americans would describe as pro-traditional marriage.
That would be Brendan Eich all over again: taking away someone’s livelihood for legitimate political expression — in this case, an expression of orthodox Christian belief, presently held by about half the country. But you better believe that pressure for this is coming. The Charles Pierces of the world see no difference at all between Donald Sterling’s vulgar racism and orthodox Christian belief.
To the Error Has No Rights mob, there is no difference between Bull Connor and your local bishop. Pierce’s remark, though, gives me reason to rethink my initial reaction to the Sterling situation. My first thought was that this is Sterling’s just desserts; he is clearly a repulsive human being, and not just because of the remarks he made in private that sparked this recent controversy. That said, it’s fair to ask: was he discriminatory against blacks in his role as Clippers owner? He may well have been; I don’t know, I don’t follow sports. But if he treated his black employees fairly, is his private bigotry really so awful as to strip him of team ownership?
Perhaps it is. Again, I don’t follow sports, so I don’t know how leagues usually handle these situations. Sterling is an extremely unsympathetic figure, one that nobody wants to go to the mat to defend. But the witch-hunt that Charles Pierce seems to want to start raises a good question: which opinions are permissible for NBA team owners to express privately without having to worry about being stripped of their franchise?