Monday, April 28, 2014

There is one difference between the Brendan Eich and Donald Sterling controversies

If you haven't heard, a story about Donald Sterling broke over the weekend. And although it pains me to do this, I'm linking to TMZ because it broke the story originally.

You have to listen to the audio to fully grasp the magnitude of Sterling's racist worldview. Among the comments:

-- "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?" (3:30)

-- "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games." (5:15)

-- "I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people." (7:45)

-- "...Don't put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games." (9:13)

As I reflected on the story, it struck me that there are a number of similarities between the latest Donald Sterling story, and the whole Brendan Eich story from a few weeks ago.

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich engaged in controversial behavior.

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich engaged in behavior that was perfectly legal. (Regarding Sterling, I should clarify that it is illegal to engage in housing discrimination, or to discriminate against an employee. It is, however, perfectly legal to say that you don't want someone of a particular race to be on someone's personal Instagram feed.)

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich were criticized by the public for their stances.

Both Donald Sterling and Brendan Eich were criticized by influential businesses for their stances. (With Eich, it was OKCupid; with Sterling, it's State Farm, CarMax, Birgin America, Kia, Red Bull, and probably more by the end of the day today.)

But there's one very important difference between the two.

Eich was an employee, hired by the Mozilla Foundation.

Sterling, of course, is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. And while the Clippers are a franchise awarded by the National Basketball Association, and the NBA has some limited control over its franchises, for all practical purposes Sterling is at the top of the heap when it comes to Clippers matters.

That fact will have some important consequences over the next few days...or months...or years.
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