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The Responsibility of Free Speech

May 1, 2014

The rapid eruption of reaction to racist comments by L.A. Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling resulted in fast and severe penalties from the National Basketball Association.

Some opposed the NBA sanctions, citing Sterling’s right to the freedom of speech – no matter how objectionable the statements.

Freedom of speech means freedom to speak your opinion without fear of government prosecution. Period. A person has the right to speak his or her mind – but they also are responsible for the tenor and content of their message – especially if they are in position of leadership.

In the best of all worlds, sports should be a sanctuary from the prejudices too often faced in life. This is a world in which players and teams are judged on the merits of their accomplishments, not on the color of their skin, their race or religion.

While Sterling may have been simply relating his view of “how the world works,” it is essential for those in positions of leadership in sports to forcefully champion fairness for all; for this is the basic tenet that sets sports apart – and at times above – many other aspects of life.

News accounts of the rich or famous or politically connected receiving preferential treatment incite anger in most Americans. Why?


Americans are famous for rooting for the underdog, a symbol of fighting for a fair chance to win against the odds.

That is one of the main reasons Americans – and most of the rest of the world – love sports. And that is why even the suggestion of prejudiced-inspired social actions in sports ignited such a firestorm of reaction.

Sterling has a right to voice his opinion – and that right is accompanied by the obligation to accept the reaction.

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