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Forced Selling Of Clippers Is Not A Constitutional Issue, Get Over It

Donald Sterling is now at the mercy of the National Basketball Association and the clauses that make up its–lower case C–constitution.

Donald Sterling
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Donald Sterling

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A lesson for those decrying Donald Sterling’s forced sell of the Clippers as a constitutional issue: like Sterling, you’re allowed to say anything and everything you want (within reason), without fear of government suppression or punishment, but are not guaranteed unlimited freedom when operating under private enterprise, and you’re certainly not shielded from public backlash.

So, although Sterling is allowed to pursue a civil trial against the person(s) who recorded his conversation, if the recording was made in a state where it’s deemed illegal, he is now at the mercy of the National Basketball Association and the clauses that make up its–lower case C–constitution.

As a member of the owner’s association, Sterling is bound by terms he agreed upon. Article 13(d) of the league’s constitution is being cited by many as the key to Sterling’s downfall. That article states than an owner cannot “fail or refuse to fulfill” contractual obligations to the league “in such a way to affect the Association or its members adversely.” Given that players have threatened to boycott, the league has lost a consortium of sponsors, it brought on public outcry, and much more, the league has decided it is in its best interests to oust Sterling.

The billionaire seems to be unwilling to go out without a fight and has threatened to sue and to refuse payment of his $2.5 million fine. It’s certainly in his right to argue that his private remarks haven’t broken the article at hand, and that he should be allowed to keep the business he owns, but that’s for a court to decide and is simply not a First Amendment issue. Never was.

Now, under Article 14 of the league’s constitution, commissioner Adam Silver must convince three-quarters of the Board of Governors to vote for an ouster. In the scenario that he does, which is highly likely, the owners of the Clippers–that includes Shelly–would be disenfranchised as Silver takes on the task of finding new ownership for the team. The Sterlings, having agreed to the terms made transparent by the club they decided to join voluntarily, would be forced to sell a team they’d rather hold onto solely out of the unfortunate nature of their own actions. For the most part, only Sterling is to blame in this whole mess. And, it’s also not like they won’t be compensated appropriately when their business is sold off.

Sterling, meanwhile, is no less empowered to utilize his freedom of speech at his own discretion. He can shout it to the world, if he so desired. But, as he’s painstakingly discovering throughout this process, and which provides an important lesson for those who misunderstand the First Amendment and its powers, Free Speech isn’t carte blanche for being an a-hole.


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