woody zimmerman 118 2007In recent days, national news media have obsessed over sensational reports involving Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. Mr. Sterling evidently made some unguarded, racially-offensive remarks in a private conversation with his 38-year-old girlfriend, V. Stiviano, about her public associations with black players. (Miss Stiviano’s ethnic heritage is said to be black and Hispanic.) She apparently recorded Mr. Sterling’s controversial remarks while encouraging him to speak frankly. Later, the tape came to the celebrity-gossip outlet TMZ, although Miss Stiviano claims she did not release it. A spokesman for the LA Clippers initially claimed to be uncertain if the voice on the tape was Mr. Sterling’s, but it was later confirmed that it was his voice making racially disparaging statements. (Mr. Sterling claimed he was unaware that he was being recorded.)

Donald Sterling is an 80-year-old married man. His dalliance – such as it might have been, at his age – with a girlfriend of half his years, had attracted not a word of commentary, so far as I am aware, from either national media or officials of the National Basketball Association. At this writing, NBA spokesmen have not said whether such extra-marital activity is considered acceptable behavior by the league. (Some wags have suggested that having a hot young girlfriend might even be an obligatory “proof of manhood” for superannuated NBA-team owners, but league spokesmen have not confirmed this.)

All that, however, was passé to media hipsters: just a rich old guy pretending to fool around with a young girlfriend. Yawn… Nothing to see here. Until the release of the Stiviano tapes, Donald Sterling was a generous donor to various liberal causes, including the NAACP. Indeed, the latter intended to honor Mr. Sterling’s benevolence with a Lifetime Achievement Award next month, but those plans have now been scrapped. Mr. Sterling was long known to hold some “eccentric” racial views, but, after all, he did give a lot of money to liberal causes…

After the Stiviano tapes were publicized, however, all of Mr. Sterling’s good works went down the Memory Hole. He became the most hated man in America – denounced from every quarter, including the White House, and cast into Outer Darkness by professional racialists everywhere. Within days, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Mr. Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life and assessed a fine of $2.5 million for “conduct detrimental to the league.” Mr. Silver also intimated that Mr. Sterling might be required to sell ownership of his team, depending on how the twenty-nine other NBA owners vote on the matter. (A 75% majority will be required to force Mr. Sterling to sell.)

Wow! Pretty tough punishment for a guy who thought he was privately telling his girlfriend not to flaunt her black boyfriends in public – particularly by sitting with them in his owner’s box at Clippers games. And all this from a possibly illegal recording that would never be admissible in court! Nevertheless, the bums-rush is on, with the early odds against Mr. Sterling holding onto his team (or his girlfriend).

As the story continues to play out, however, it’s becoming apparent that a queue is forming to buy the LA Clippers, should Mr. Sterling get the axe. New Zealand radio has reported that numbers of Hollywood moguls, sports stars and rappers have voiced interest in taking over the Clippers – hopefully at a “fire-sale” price – if the disgraced billionaire is forced to sell out.Suspicion is growing that V. Stiviano was “encouraged” – perhaps even bribed – to goad Mr. Sterling into making his intemperate racial remarks, and to record him doing so, by as-yet-unknown parties who anticipated the racial hurricane that might force the owner to sell his team.

In plain words, this looks very much like a lynch-mob used as a business strategy – perhaps a little unusual, but certainly creative and unquestionably effective. Not a bad week’s work, if your goal is to make a semi-loony octogenarian sell a valuable sports franchise. If the gambit succeeds, look for its imitation in many business venues. Big media and liberal politicians, especially, are romping on the warpath in “scalp-taking” mode. One imagines that many of those NBA team owners are now doing some serious soul-searching about skeletons in their own closets and the risks they might run if they fit Donald Sterling with the hemp necktie, as the slavering lynch-mob (including some would-be Clippers owners) are clamoring for. ‘Will I be next?’ and ‘Is this a good precedent to set?’ are the questions many owners must be asking themselves.

Technology for making secret recordings is readily available to most individuals, so there’s no telling who might have captured which damaging “private” comments by what owner. New fortunes await faithless confidants who have recorded and stored comments that will have high value in the climate of racial frenzy now sweeping the land. Each week will bring new revelations, denunciations, and demands for resignation and/or divestiture. A child could see this coming, but there is no telling how far it will go.

Thoughtful Americans must also be asking why this is happening now. I have suggested possible business motivations, but politics is also a likely factor. Democrats, especially, are pathetically eager to see media attention diverted away from their damaging issues: i.e., Obamacare; the disastrous state of the economy (0.1% growth for the first quarter of the year); the evolving scandal of the Benghazi embassy destruction and murdered staff, in September 2012; political corruption in the IRS; the crisis with Russia and the Ukraine; etc., etc. Of all possible news events, can anything guarantee complete media obsession like a scandal involving white racism, big money, and salacious sex? This is a dream scenario for Democrats, who can be counted on to play it for all it’s worth. Stirring the stinkpot of racism also motivates Democrats’ minority base, going into the fall elections. The timing couldn’t be better.

Do I care about Donald Sterling, his faithless girlfriend (a redundancy as ever was), and his stupid racial remarks? Answer: not really. The thing is absurd. Any 80-year-old man – even if he is as rich as Croesus – who thinks a woman half his age might really “love” him probably deserves the lumps he gets. This is idiocy raised to the 80th power. He’ll be lucky if all it costs him is some money, and he has plenty of that.

What I do care about is the scurrilous idea that someone can be bums-rushed out of either a position or the ownership of a business by disclosure of something he said privately – even if those private remarks appear to be (gasp!) racist. Public statements are one thing. If Mr. Sterling had stood before a microphone and said, “I think black people are ba-deep, ba-dap, ba-doop… and I don’t want them anywhere near me,” then he would deserve the approbation of his league and his employees. But he didn’t do that. He spoke about a sensitive personal matter, to someone close to him, in what he thought was confidence. She betrayed him by recording what he said, and then letting it be publicly aired. No moral person should be glad to see conduct like this, and no reputable organization should honor it. It was disgusting.

When are we going to grow up about this kind of thing? If anyone mentions “race,” we slobber all over ourselves like Pavlov’s dog. We’re like 5-year-old boys who go crazy if someone says “underwear.” We are all asking for big trouble if we let such disclosures legitimize future firings or divestitures without sober due process. The question, hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles, will be: How far will this go? Will every white manager or executive or educator have to fear, from now on, that some stupid thing he said twenty years ago will come back to blindside him, resulting in his disgrace and dismissal? Is all privacy gone? Is personal trust to be sacrificed on the altar of Political Correctness?

This has gone far enough. It’s time to nip it in the bud. And Mr. Sterling needs to sue some people. He might be old, stupid and a even little cracked, but when did those things become crimes? If they are, we’ll have to lock up half of the Congress…