At some point during J360 – Media Law (circa 1981), our class learned First Amendment freedom of speech gives you the right to not be arrested for speaking your mind. That’s as long as you don’t put anyone in harm’s way by your words. The old joke was: “You have the right to yell ‘Theater’ in a crowded fire.”
Earlier today NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for racist comments recorded by his girlfriend. Some talk radio callers questioned how Sterling could be punished so harshly for speaking his mind. Those folks, of course, miss the intent of the law. While the billionaire has every right to say what he feels without fearing arrest, that doesn’t mean there won’t be repercussions.
If I spew hatred in these blog messages, a policeman will not likely come knocking and take me away in handcuffs. There is, however, a strong possibility all of my clients would immediately fire me and media would be camped out on my doorstep… ready for the traditional ‘No Comment’ or ‘My website was hacked” when they ask about my writings.
Sterling didn’t suddenly become a racist overnight. He was exposed and the world learned he’s another in a long list of ugly old white guys. Maybe his fast fall will be a wakeup call to other hate mongers. As Sacramento mayor – and former All-Star Kevin Johnson – said: “I hope that every bigot in this country sees what happened to Mr. Sterling and recognizes that if he can fail, so can you.”