Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Donald Sterling's Rights Were Violated - No, Not Those Ones

In the recent Donald Sterling controversy, nearly everyone in the world (well, nearly everyone in the world who cares about it) has focused on the man's racist comments, and applauded the NBA for the way they rushed to judgement and punished the man.

But ALMOST NOBODY has raised a red flag about the invasion of this man's privacy that led to the airing of his racist comments. Sure, there's a right to free speech in this country, but there's also a right to privacy. This man's PRIVATE comments in a PRIVATE phone conversation were sold, without his knowledge or permission, to TMZ, who proceeded to broadcast them publicly.

I don't care how objectionable, racist, or misanthropic Sterling's remarks were. THEY WERE STILL PRIVATE.

Here's how two prominent black men weighed in on it:

The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of those men. The article in TheBlaze merely quotes from his guest editorial in Time magazine. The Time article is worth reading in full. In a nutshell, KAJ slaps YOU, the reading and reacting public, around for two very good reasons:

1. Sterling's racist actions have been going on for years, and they've been a lot more public, and a lot more damaging than this recorded-and-leaked private conversation. People were actually being hurt in 2006 and 2009. It was in all the papers. To quote the man: "What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?"

2. Recording and then publishing that conversation was, indeed, illegal. If we allow that act to go unpunished, then in the future none of us should expect anything we say to anybody to remain private and confidential. And didn't we just all get up in arms about the NSA snooping on our telephone and email conversations? Again, in his words: "I hope whoever made this illegal tape is sent to prison."

KAJ summarizes it beautifully when he says: "So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. "

Edit: And here's a lawyer's opinion on it. The lawyer also says that Sterling's rights were violated. Moreover, says the lawyer, the recording, sale and publicizing of Sterling's private conversation, without his knowledge and permission, was illegal. He does a good job of pointing out the danger to all the rest of us if leaks like this are allowed to go unpunished - in other words, he says, Sterling may have deserved his punishment, but Stiviano should have been pilloried as well.

Sidenote #1: Many people misinterpret this "right to free speech." The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ..." They think it means that you can say anything that you want, anywhere. That's not what it means. Objectionable speech still has consequences. Your employer can fire you; your coach can kick you off the team; your club can kick you out; your school can suspend or expel you. Get it? "CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW," but everybody else can make rules.

Sidenote #2: The "right to privacy," according to Wikipedia, although not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights, is recognized by most states and includes protection against "Intrusion ... into private affairs" and "Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts." This also gets into ambiguous areas, because again it seems to be talking more about governmental violations of the right, and not personal violations. However, recent court cases have upheld the privacy rights of individuals who have been wronged by individuals and corporate entities.

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