Sterling ban sets precedent for accountability


LOS ANGELES — The National Basketball Association on Tuesday handed a lifetime ban to the longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, an extraordinary step in professional sports and one intended to rid the league of Mr. Sterling after he was recorded making racist comments.

Commissioner Adam Silver said the N.B.A. would try to force Mr. Sterling to sell the Clippers, fully expecting to get the necessary three-quarters approval from other team owners. It would be a rare, if not unprecedented, move for a North American professional sports league — made even more unusual by the fact that the N.B.A. is punishing Mr. Sterling for comments he made in a private conversation. John Branch – New York Times

First of all, let’s face it: it’s gratifying to see an a**hole get publicly shamed and punished. What I like most about this decision by the NBA to ban Sterling from the game is that it sets a precedent that people involved in professional sports have to be accountable for their off-court personal behavior, even in what they might like to consider their “private” lives.

This is important because these people are role models: kids (and adults) emulate what they see from their sports heroes. And in today’s global fishbowl, off-court conduct is as visible as what is seen on court. One could argue that shenanigans get even more airtime because the media are compelled to air dirty laundry. What’s more, the dirt gets amplified beyond the confines of a particular sports’ fans as it rides the hashtags into the mainstream. So frankly, in terms of visibility, especially to broader audiences, it’s pretty hard for the good deeds to keep up with the bad. (No doubt this put more pressure on the NBA to react swiftly and harshly.) It would be nice if parents and coaches around the world used the dirty laundry as a tete-a-tete with every kid on “how not to behave”, but let’s be realistic.

Is this too high of a standard for professional sports’ athletes, coaches, staff, and owners? No way! The big bucks wouldn’t be there if not for the audience. These people are in the entertainment business, and as such, need to be accountable for who they are on and off the field.

Of course, the audience has a responsibility too. If what we see from our professionals fails to meet our standards of conduct, especially when considering the influence on our kids, then we need to vote with the remote and turn the channel to sports that get it right. If we don’t then the Richard Shermans of the sporting world will continue to exploit the media to build the value of their personal brand, whether it’s through impressive athleticism or spotlight-grabbing hijinks; it’s all the same in media metrics.

So, wellplayed NBA for taking a stand against uncivilized behavior – wherever it happens – and let it be a wake up call to everyone involved in the world of visible sports.

See reactions to the situation as reported in the New York Times.