Tonawanda News

May 2, 2014

LEFFLER: Donald Sterling issue not black and white.

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Color me conflicted.

Some people have told me over the years that I’m wishy washy at times. I used to get this complaint on a somewhat regular basis back in my broadcast days. It’s not that I’m wishy washy, though. It’s that I have what I consider to be a unique ability to see several sides of an issue simultaneously.

That’s where I stand over the decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers Owner Donald Sterling for private racist remarks he made that were then made public.

Many people feel the “bold move” made by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is a step in the right direction, showing without doubt that the basketball league will not tolerate racism. Meh.

Others feel that Sterling’s private comments are just that and should not be counted against him in his public life — meaning as owner of the Clippers.

I can see the second point of view more than I can see the first, to be honest. While I abhor racism, we are still in America and people have the right to say what they feel. That doesn’t mean that NBA patrons and advertisers are required to put up with racist comments, however. And many can and would react by boycotting the team — maybe even the league.

This is where I can see the reasoning behind Silver’s decision to ban Sterling from the league. From my point of view, it has little to do with standing up to racism and a lot to do with protecting the financial well-being of the league.

Others will sugar coat it and say that Silver and other NBA owners are actually standing up to racism. I say hogwash; they’re standing up for capitalism. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Kind of.

The NBA is a lot like a restaurant franchise. Each owner is in charge of their store but the corporate overlords are in charge of various policies. And if the individual stores don’t pull their weight, the corporation moves in and protects its interests.

Having worked for the McDonald’s Corporation for a number of years, this parallel makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, at the end of my tenure with McDonald’s, one of my duties was to help franchisees with certain image problems. I worked for the corporation, but my day-to-day duties was to help private store owners with issues. Basically, the corporation knew that individual store owners could make them look bad. And if that were to happen, those store owners could lose their franchise rights. For the well-being of the corporation.

I get that. It makes sense. But still it’s a very slippery slope.

The NBA is in a bad situation itself. They can’t stand up for Sterling, lest they be branded racist. But in ostracizing him, they’re telling other NBA owners — and potentially other sports owners — “Hey, you better not ever say anything remotely controversial or we’ll cut you off at the knees.”

A slippery slope indeed. I see the NBA’s point of view. But in the end, I just think they’re wrong.

Scott Leffler is more upset about McDonald's getting rid of Hot Mustard than the NBA getting rid of Donald Sterling. He didn't think that was column-worthy, but he did tweet about it recently @scottleffler.