Next time someone asks, “What d’ya think?” think hard. Your answer could get you fired.
Last week, National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million. The action came in response to racist comments Sterling made to a V. Stiviano, who is characterized variously as his girlfriend and personal assistant. The comments were made public by TMZ, a “celebrity news” website whose specialty is calling attention to the foibles of the rich and famous.
If you know Mel Gibson once spouted anti-Jewish epithets after a drunken-driving arrest or think the words “bad girl” and “Lindsay Lohan” must always appear in that order, thank TMZ.
Stiviano recorded Sterling’s comments on her cellphone – whether with or without his permission is not clear – and later sent some of the recordings to a friend “for safekeeping.” She now claims the friend leaked the recordings to TMZ “for money.”
Now, I’m neither rich nor famous, but it seems to me if you recorded your boss/lover telling you not to be seen with blacks or bring them to NBA games – and if you had no intention of using the recording to damage him – you would destroy it, much as Monica Lewinsky destroyed her semen-stained “little blue dress” after her one-night stand with Bill Clinton. Never mind.
Here’s the thing: Sterling made his statements in private. Sure, Sterling’s beliefs would be out of line anywhere other than a Ku Klux Klan meeting, but he has the right to hold – and to express – them.
Moreover, I find it hard to believe other NBA owners, players and even Commissioner Silver himself had no idea Sterling’s reputation was, well, less than sterling. More likely, they knew but turned a blind eye to the octogenarian’s goofball antics until they embarrassed the league.
Perhaps it’s understandable an organization would be embarrassed by bigoted statements, even those made in private, that somehow become public.
But how about a company firing an employee for making a public statement promoting tolerance? That’s what happened to Josh Olin, a former community manager for video game developer Turtle Rock.
On April 30, in response to the NBA’s action against Sterling, Olin tweeted: “Here’s an unpopular opinion: Donald Sterling has the right as an American to be an old bigot in the security of his own home. He’s a victim.”
Almost immediately, Turtle Rock dismissed Olin and tweeted a disclaimer: “The comments made by our former community manager stand in stark contrast to our values as a game development studio. We sincerely apologize for his remarks and in no way endorse or support those views.”
I may not agree with Olin’s characterization of Sterling as a victim, but exactly what “views” did Turtle Rock take issue with? Expressing an opinion that might differ from others’?
One lesson to take away from the Sterling debacle is this: Humanity has evolved to the point that you are not really safe expressing your true feelings to anyone.
A common rationalization for everything from random traffic stops to NSA trolling of cell phone data is, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
Problem is, who decides what should be hidden? And who sets the standards by which you will be judged?