Sports

Sterling Punishment Causes Twitter Firestorm Over First Amendment Rights

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Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTE (CBS Charlotte/AP) — First Amendment advocates went to bat for Donald Sterling via social media after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver implemented a lifetime ban on the Los Angeles Clippers owner over his recorded racist comments.

Many took to Twitter saying that even though Sterling was wrong with what he said about African-Americans, it was his right to do so.

The problem, though, is that they are wrong as the First Amendment doesn’t protect Sterling from punishment handed down by a private business. The NBA did not violate Sterling’s constitutional rights with its swift punishment. Individuals and businesses are restricted from the First Amendment, while the government is not.

“The First Amendment would only protect a citizen against government action. It could not be suggested, for example, that an employee could tell his boss off, and the company would have no recourse against the employee,” lawyer Robert Porter told CBS Charlotte. “The First Amendment provided Mr. Sterling with the right to make a fool out of himself with no ramifications from the government.”

Sterling, 80, is banned for life from any association with the league or the Clippers, and was fined $2.5 million — the maximum allowable under the NBA constitution. If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.

“We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA,” Silver said at a news conference Tuesday.

Sterling’s comments — which were recorded by his girlfriend and released by TMZ on Saturday — harmed the league, Silver said. Sponsors were threatening to abandon the NBA, and criticism was coming from fans on social media and even the White House.

Sterling criticized V. Stiviano — purportedly the female voice on the recording — for posting pictures of herself with black athletes Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp.

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”Sterling asks the woman on the recording.

“Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league,” Silver said.

The NBA’s longest-tenured owner keeps his team for now — and Silver said he didn’t know if Sterling would fight to do so permanently.

Sources tell CBS Los Angeles that Sterling has no intention of selling the team.

Charlotte Bobcats owner and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan applauded Silver’s move.

“I applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift and decisive response today,” Jordan said in a statement. “He sent a powerful message that there can be zero tolerance for racism and hatred in the NBA. I’m confident that the league, our players and our fans will move on from this stronger and more unified.”

Sterling’s Clippers have been one of the most incompetent franchises in pro sports, and nearly all of their previous seasons would have been finished by now. But after the most successful two-year stretch in Clippers history, the current team is a title contender led by Doc Rivers, a black coach whom Sterling brought in from Boston and paid $7 million a year.

“(Silver) made the decision that really was the right one that had to be made,” Rivers said before the Clippers’ game. “I don’t think this is something that we rejoice in or anything like that. I told the players about the decision, and I think they were just happy there was a resolution and that it’s over, at least the start of it. I think we’re all in a better place because of this.”

Silver said the ban applied only to Sterling, and there had been no discussions about whether he could sell to a family member. Sterling’s estranged wife, Rochelle, has been closely involved with the franchise for years.

Many owners supported Silver, and none of them publicly defended Sterling.

“We applaud the firm punishment handed out today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and appreciate the swiftness with which the NBA conducted its investigation,” Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob said in a statement.

The fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts, Silver said.

Sterling, with an estimated net worth of about $2 billion, did not comment, though Silver said he did not apologize for his remarks. Silver said Sterling confirmed that he was the person on the recording.

Silver hasn’t even been on the job three months and already had to face a crisis that threatened the league not only financially — with several companies ending or suspending their sponsorships of the Clippers. Staples Center carried almost no advertising Tuesday night, with most sponsorship signage either removed or covered.

The scandal affected the NBA even more on a social level. The league survived the Indiana Pacers’ brawl with Detroit Pistons fans, and referee Tim Donaghy betting on games he officiated. But this brought a different level of outrage, particularly because the league could have done something sooner about Sterling, who has faced federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in his business dealings.

“This has all happened in three days, and so I am hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league and to the Clippers organization,” Silver said. “But as I said earlier, I’m outraged so I certainly understand other people’s outrage.”

Rivers canceled practice Monday and declined a meeting request from Sterling. He wouldn’t address whether he would return next season if Sterling were still in control, a stance reaffirmed by the coach before Game 5 of the Clippers’ playoff series with Golden State.

That might not be an issue if the owners vote to oust the owner.

Sterling is estranged from his wife and had been dating Stiviano, 31. In court documents, Stiviano describes him as a man “with a big toothy grin brandishing his sexual prowess in the faces of the Paparazzi and caring less what anyone else thought, the least of which, his own wife.”

Silver said when he first heard the audio, he hoped it had been altered or was fake, but thought it was Sterling. And it doesn’t matter if Sterling didn’t realize he was being recorded, Silver said.

“Whether or not these remarks were initially shared in private, they’re now public, and they represent his views.”

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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