Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Words are powerful, have consequences

By the Advocate Editorial Board
May 21, 2014 at 12:21 a.m.

Once again, another rich and famous person has said something offensive, and once again, the American public is reacting with a clash of outrage and support.

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team, was heard making racist comments in a recording released by TMZ in April. In the recording, Sterling is telling his reported girlfriend, V. Stiviano, that he does not want her posting pictures of herself with black people on her social media accounts, and she should not bring any black people to Clippers games. The comments sparked immediate outrage across the nation and resulted in an investigation by the NBA, which has banned Sterling for life.

Some, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, were reluctant to support the ban because the comments were made on what was intended to be a private recording. However, that changed when Sterling once again made racist remarks, this time in a televised interview on CNN with Anderson Cooper. Sterling is now under investigation and is suspected of altering or destroying evidence in the controversy.

This is not the first time a noteworthy person has made controversial statements and brought about a wave of conflicting reactions across the nation. In December, a controversy surfaced when Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family featured in the popular show "Duck Dynasty," made controversial comments about the LGBT community in an interview with GQ Magazine. After the comments were made public, A&E, the network that airs the show, said Robertson would be banned from appearing on the show. But a backlash of fan support for Robertson forced the network to change its decision.

One thing that has been constant throughout both of these controversies and others before it is the claim by supporters that the people in question should be allowed to express their opinion without consequences because they have "freedom of speech." This is a gross misrepresentation of the intent of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights is a set of specific limitations placed on the government to protect the rights of the people. It is true that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech - but only from the government, and there have been a myriad of Supreme Court cases that have clarified what forms of speech are protected.

But Sterling is not facing government censorship. He is facing the decision of the NBA, a group separate from the government that does not want to be affiliated with someone who makes racist statements. Sterling has the right to say whatever he wants, but he also must face the consequences that come with what he chooses to say. The government can't lock him up for his statements, but he is not immune from the effects of his words in the private sector. None of us are.

We must all remember that words are powerful things, and if we are irresponsible when speaking, there will be consequences. The Bill of Rights protects citizens from the government arresting them for their words, but it does not guarantee freedom from any and all consequences.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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