Skip to main content

What happened to Sterling was morally wrong

By Marc J. Randazza
April 30, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Atlanta Hawks controlling owner<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/07/us/atlanta-hawks-owner-bruce-levenson-racist-email/index.html?hpt=hp_t1'> Bruce Levenson</a> announced he will sell the team in light of an offensive email he sent. Levenson is not the first sports team owner to face the consequences of his actions: Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced he will sell the team in light of an offensive email he sent. Levenson is not the first sports team owner to face the consequences of his actions:
HIDE CAPTION
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
Team owners behaving badly
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marc J. Randazza: Donald Sterling's First Amendment rights weren't violated in scandal
  • Government isn't punishing speech, he says, but Sterling's ideas failed in marketplace
  • He says problem was recording of Sterling may have been illegal, leaking it morally wrong
  • Randazza: This could happen to any of our private conversations today and it's chilling

Editor's note: Marc J. Randazza is a Las Vegas-based First Amendment attorney and is the managing partner of the Randazza Legal Group. He is licensed to practice in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Nevada. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- This past week, my inbox blew up with e-mails asking whether Donald Sterling's First Amendment rights were violated in the uproar over the Los Angeles Clippers owner's racist remarks about black people. After all, he was simply expressing his views, however unpopular.

While he did have some rights violated, his First Amendment rights remain intact.

The First Amendment protects you from the government punishing you because of your speech. The NBA is a private club, and it can discipline Sterling all it wants.

Marc J. Randazza
Marc J. Randazza

What about the chorus of criticism? Are we all violating his First Amendment rights by criticizing him? We are punishing him for his speech.

Nope. The First Amendment does not insulate you from criticism. In fact, that's the First Amendment in action. That is how the marketplace of ideas works. We float our ideas in the marketplace, and we see which idea sells.

Most everyone would agree that Sterling's ideas fail in the marketplace of ideas. Nevertheless, I reluctantly stand on Sterling's side today. What happened to him may have been illegal and was morally wrong.

Start with illegal. In California, you can't record a conversation without the knowledge or consent of both parties. The recording featuring Sterling and V. Stiviano may be the result of a crime. Once she gathered this information, someone leaked it (she denies it was her) -- and it went viral. This is where I think things went morally wrong.

We all say things in private that we might not say in public. Sometimes we have ideas that are not fully developed -- we try them out with our closest friends. Consider it our test-marketplace of ideas. As our ideas develop, we consider whether to make them public. Should we not all have the freedom to make that choice on our own?

Crisis guru on NBA racism controversy
Ex-NBA star: No room in sport for bigotry
Bigotry a symptom of generational divide?

The Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy made his own stupid and bigoted statements, and he's been nationally pilloried, too -- but he chose to make those statements to the world. He deserves every ounce of obloquy heaped upon him.

But does Sterling? Think about what his public character execution means. It means that we now live in a world where if you have any views that are unpopular, you now not only need to fear saying them in public, but you need to fear saying them at all -- even to your intimate friends. They might be recording you, and then that recording may be spread across the Internet for everyone to hear.

Isn't it bad enough that the National Security Agency can spy on all of us? How can we complain when we condone giving our closest friends the ability to do worse -- perhaps just to try and destroy us.

In the novel "1984," George Orwell wrote of the Telescreen, a device that beamed information into the home but that also spied on people constantly. Even if we were to stop the NSA in its tracks, would we still now live in a world where the Telescreen watches us? Only instead of an oppressive government installing it in our apartments, it is conveniently placed in the hands of our dear friends.

The Sterling story is not that we found a bigot and dragged him to the gallows in the middle of the marketplace of ideas. The Sterling story is about how there is no more privacy. We live in a world where you can share your intimate photos with your lover, and they will wind up on a "revenge porn" website.

We live in a world where our intimate conversations will be recorded and blasted to billions of listeners. We live in a world where, say a gold digger can spy on her sugar daddy, and the world says that the creepy old guy is the bad guy.

Don't get me wrong. Sterling does seem to be a bad person. But sometimes the bad person is also the victim, and he stands in for us. As you applaud Stiviano for bringing the racist old man's views to light, consider if it were you speaking to a woman friend in what you thought was a private conversation.

Do we now live in a world where we can trust nobody? Where there is no privacy?

In this story, there are two villains. Sterling represents the bad old days. But Stiviano's behavior represents the horrifying future. Shouldn't we condemn the complete breakdown of privacy and trust at least as loudly as we condemn some old man's racist blathering?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT