Esquire’s Pierce Asks: Why Doesn’t NBA Punish Owners Who Oppose Gay Marriage?

Donald Sterling, the beleaguered owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been banned from the NBA for life. But for some in the media, the league's disciplinary action is something that should be pursued against socially conservative owners by virtue of their political beliefs.

Take Esquire political blogger Charlie Pierce, for example. Appearing as a guest on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour, Pierce suggested that NBA commissioner Adam Silver should now consider taking action against the DeVos family, which owns the Orlando Magic, for the family’s opposition to gay marriage. Pierce pondered (emphasis mine):



[W]hat does Adam Silver now do, for example, with the DeVos family in Orlando, which funds anti-gay candidates and anti-gay issue ads all over the country, as well as owning the Orlando Magic? Does he talk to them? This is an entirely new world, and if we’re going to step into it, let’s step all the way into it.
 

Dick and Betsy DeVos are prominent philanthropists who have donated millions of dollars to a wide variety of conservative candidates and causes, including some candidates who opposed gay marriage. But they have never made any disgusting comments about homosexuals in the vein of Sterling’s comments about African-Americans. Does Pierce really think they should be punished for their mere funding of the traditional marriage cause?

If the NBA were to follow Pierce’s advice and “step all the way into” this new world, it would be entering the realm of censorship. Today, the league punishes one horribly backward owner, but tomorrow, according to Pierce’s plan, it sanctions owners for exercising their political and religious convictions. The result would be to hack away at freedom of speech in this country.

The NewsHour’s other guest during this segment wasn’t content to limit the conversation to Sterling, either. New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden used his PBS appearance to blast “institutional racism” in the sports industry. He explained what he meant:
 

[W]hen you go through an NFL franchise or an NBA franchise — and I’ve invited the players to do that — they will be stunned when they go to visit all parts of the department –  marketing, legal, the executive suite –  and find out how few black people there are.
 

In fact, Rhoden thinks the lack of black people in these occupations is just as bad as Sterling’s remarks:
 

So, yes, Donald Sterling articulated something, he didn’t want black people around, but people can make that same statement without necessarily being clumsy like he was. They make the statement in terms of who they don’t hire, who they don’t have around.
 

So that’s your taxpayer-subsidized PBS sports discussion for the day: censorship of conservative owners and racial quotas in professional sports teams’ offices.

Below is a transcript of the segment:

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you this, Bill Rhoden. We know that he is going to be fined $2.5 million. We know that he is going to be banned for life. He can’t go to games, go to meetings, any of that.

But in selling the team, being forced to sell the team, isn’t he going to reap a huge profit?

WILLIAM RHODEN: Oh, well, Gwen, you ask a great question.

Donald Sterling does not lose. You know, he wins. I mean, he wins. But what I hope happens, though, is from here — you know, I was at the press conference. And there was sort of a sense that, OK, we took this guy and flogged him. The wicked witch is dead, meaning the wicked witch of racism is dead.

And, you know, it’s — this is far more insidious and pervasive than this. This is more than about Donald Sterling. This is about institutional racism throughout the industry, throughout the NBA, throughout the NFL. And by that, I mean that, when you go through an NFL franchise or an NBA franchise — and I’ve invited the players to do that — they will be stunned when they go to visit all parts of the department –  marketing, legal, the executive suite –  and find out how few black people there are.

So, yes, Donald Sterling articulated something, he didn’t want black people around, but people can make that same statement without necessarily being clumsy like he was. They make the statement in terms of who they don’t hire, who they don’t have around.



So I don’t want this — the problem with this is that, you know, it’s over and I think — you know how we do with race. You know, we make a big deal out of it and now we move on to the playoffs and the NBA championship, and thank God, the players, we don’t have to really take a stand. So I just want this to be the beginning, not the end.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Charlie Pierce about that.

Is this something which you sense will go on beyond what it is now?  Because, as you have written, this is not the first time, for instance, we have heard of Donald Sterling making comments like this, and nothing happened before.

CHARLIE PIERCE: No, Donald Sterling has been a cancer on this league merely from a competitive standpoint since he owned the team.

He has acted out his racism before in his private business, which is basically being a landlord. And that’s being very kind. Otherwise, I think what Bill is talking about, if it’s going to go forward, then this can’t be the only time the players get together and decide to take a stand on this, OK?

The players — if the players are going to — have an advantage now, they have to push it. For example, they have to lean on the league to make this sale happen, and not to — it is unfathomable to me that Donald Sterling might still own the team next fall. That can’t be allowed. If Adam Silver is serious, that can’t be allowed to happen.

On another venture, what does Adam Silver now do, for example, with the DeVos family in Orlando, which funds anti-gay candidates and anti-gay issue ads all over the country, as well as owning the Orlando Magic? Does he talk to them? This is an entirely new world, and if we’re going to step into it, let’s step all the way into it.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.