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Why Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos could protect Donald Sterling

2014 April 28
by Preston Raulerson

Donald Sterling is an old man, with old, crooked views, and enough money to be comfortable living as a horrific human. Part of me wishes I could call him a dying breed. I wish it because I want the type of disconnected, vile racism that sits within him to go away forever, like a child wishing for Santa to stay for breakfast. An optimist might find the faith to believe that it will indeed go away, but any gambler knows where to place their money. Many men and women (both smarter than me and with more direct perspectives) have dissected Sterling’s comments, and I don’t have a compelling reason to add another regurgitated article to the pile.

Except the story isn’t complete.

Donald Sterling and girlfriend V. Stiviano

You see, we have the bad guy and we know why he is wrong, but we have missed the fact that the jury of owners responsible for doling out the punishment will be setting a precedent that will, essentially, only apply to them. That is the real story: how far would you go in punishing a man who has been tried and convicted by the public, knowing that whatever you decide would be applied just to you in the future? What punishment would a jury decide on if the degree of harshness or leniency they chose would be the same harshness or leniency that they would be judged with in the future?

The consideration here is that racism is so universally inappropriate and unacceptable that, if this was only about racism, I think the punishment would be both quickly and heavy. If he loses his franchise rights, I hope that he is fairly compensated for it of course…but I couldn’t be happier than to see him disassociated with the Association, because I do not think he deserves one of the 30 franchises in this great league.

But while this case is about racism, the precedent to be set will be more far-reaching than that. And I think that has to be scary to the owners. It is those same owners that may have hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars on the line, balancing on an edge between appropriate and inappropriate comments, as judged by a dynamic (and sometimes fickle) popular sentiment. Where racism is universally unacceptable, the definition of racism (and the verdict of guilt therein) varies constantly, and I bet it frightens the hell out of the older owners who haven’t kept up with the times.

For example, if we find a recording of Jerry Reinsdorf saying that Chicago should be drafting more black players because they have evolved to be better athletes than white players, is that something that should be punished? What if he continues to say that white players are less athletic, but they are smarter, and so they can absorb coaching better? Now we are starting to get into an uncomfortable fringe area of racial thought, but not necessarily malicious: it was taught in schools and colleges at times when some of the older owners were growing up.

You’d expect something like that to be an understood sensitivity…but would I trust my 70 or 80-year-old, well-meaning team owner to pace through those topics without sounding like a hurtful bigot? Do I trust that he will remember to forget those things he learned long ago which science now disputes? Hell, I still think there are nine planets in our solar system.

That is a total hypothetical (nothing but love for you, Mr. Reinsdorf) that ran through my brain when trying to get through such a complex issue. In truth, though, that isn’t the most likely scenario. The fear that I expect is being discussed in the tightest of ownership inner-circles, and especially for the Orlando Magic, isn’t about race at all.

Rich and Helen DeVos caught headlines in 2009 (and 2010, and 2011, and 2012) because of their donations to conservative groups that were supporting/sponsoring amendments to restrict the definition of marriage to exclude same-sex couples. Rich DeVos was also on Reagan’s first AIDS Commission, and has been noted as saying that he didn’t have sympathy for the AIDS patients (which were primarily gay) because it was their fault they got it. Ooph. (In fact, Amway and the Orlando Magic are still boycotted by some gay rights groups because of Rich DeVos’ comments and donations) Now, I don’t have a way to draw a direct comparison to the civil rights struggle in the 1960’s, and how far the prevailing opinion needed to sway in order for racism to be generally unacceptable, but gay rights is following that same life cycle…and is catching up rather quickly.

Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos

Imagine a scene five years from now with: 1) Rich DeVos giving another million or so to conservative groups challenging marriage equality, 2) being interviewed about it, and saying that his religious faith tells him that homosexuality is a sin for which one will go to hell, and 3) re-prints of his previous quotes about AIDS and gays are spread across sports websites and Twitter.

If the DeVos family and other owners voted to relinquish control of the Clippers franchise from Donald Sterling, would we expect a similar conversation and potential consequence for Rich DeVos? Absolutely.

Here is the tough part, though: would you support it? While you may unequivocally disagree with their position on homosexuality (as I do), the DeVos family has done amazing things for the city of Orlando, many charitable organizations, and the Orlando Magic franchise itself. He is beloved and respected by many around the league, has dumped massive amounts of money into the team, and has been both supportive and proactive in getting  Magic players involved in the community. Would you want them to lose both the franchise they care for so deeply and the money that they’ve invested, and also have the city lose a major patriarch and sponsor, all because they have some backwards beliefs reinforced through being earnestly religious? Conversely, would you want a major patriarch of your city, and the owner of your favorite team, known as the financier for groups that many identify as anti-gay?

I don’t know the answer. Disagreeing with his point of view, I can see it as an extension of his free speech as long as it doesn’t lead to discrimination for the Magic, the arena, or the fans. Much like the recently ousted Mozilla CEO (which Andrew Sullivan covered much better than me), I don’t want the blow back against unpopular (even backwards), but non-malicious beliefs to be so fierce that the freedom of one’s opinions must mean the restriction of another’s…because that is exactly what we should be fighting against. Of course, the counterpoint here is that actively restricting gay marriage is a type of discrimination in and of itself, and financial support for it makes one just as culpable.

Frankly, the one thing I do know is that our marriage equality debate is such a complex issue that you should definitely NOT be getting your answers from me (nor any sports blog, for that matter). The highlight is that progress comes with each new generation, and we can see quite clearly the divide between the oldest generation’s and youngest generation’s principles when it comes to both racism and gay rights. Important to this conversation as well, though, is that the same older generation is the one who owns sports teams. Oh, and the younger generation is the one that can force anything viral in moments.

For Donald Sterling, his is a case of discrimination. Discrimination both in his life as a landlord, refusing to rent to African-American and Hispanic people, and also now as the owner of the Clippers, tasking someone to not bring/not allow a black person to attend a game. Unfortunately, I think the punishment will be lighter than it should, and lighter than we should want. It won’t be because the other owners want to help Sterling, but simply because the other owners are scared that they will hurt themselves. Making everyone responsible for their own actions is easy…that is, until “everyone” includes you.

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  1. KTA permalink
    April 29, 2014

    I was 100% in agreement with everything written here, but with a very noted exception of his contributions to the Orlando community. It’s been almost forgotten that the DeVos family spent years lobbying for a new arena, which would mostly be paid for by the taxpayers. They even went so far as to play the relocation card a few times, before Buddy Dyer and the city of Orlando finally caved.

    What I found (and still find) unconscionable and unforgivable about that saga is that DeVos himself is a huge backer of conservative causes, and has been on record railing against welfare and government spending on several occasions. Yet when it came time to build a replacement for the old O-rena (RIP), he suddenly needed a handout to the tune of $400 million? Really??

    This is my biggest grievance with RDV… even more so than his outdated views, or the fact that he runs a quasi-legal pyramid scheme. He is a sociopath, a charlatan, and a hypocrite of the highest possible order. Full stop.

    • April 29, 2014

      KTA – you certainly raise valid points. I must defend Preston in his post in one area though. DeVos may not follow the giving guide that you follow, but the family has given almost $20M direct to Central Florida charities over his time in Orlando – and millllllllllllions more back home in Michigan. They may not always be to the causes you or I believe is best, but that raises another question… Should a great, well-intentioned charity turn down what /could/ be perceived as “dirty money”? That’s a much tougher stance to take.

      • KTA permalink
        April 29, 2014

        Certainly, Rich DeVos is free to donate to whatever causes he believes in, and his favorite charities are free to do whatever they please with that money. Some of us may be diametrically opposed to his worldviews, but he (and Sterling) are entitled to their opinions, just as we’re entitled to call them abhorrent or what have you. Punishing Sterling could definitely viewed as a “slippery slope” situation, as Preston alluded here — a major reason why I don’t think he will be Marge Schott’ed out of the NBA.

        As to the DeVos family’s contributions to Orlando, I certainly wouldn’t deny that they’ve poured a decent amount of their money into local causes, foundations, and schools. On the other hand, it all has to be taken in the context of the RDV himself having a net worth north of $5 billion (making him the second richest owner in the league after Paul Allen), yet still extracting $400 million worth of tax dollars to build a new arena for his team, all the while issuing thinly-veiled threats to move the team out of town if he didn’t get his way.

        And again, I don’t think it could be emphasized enough that he is a huge donor to conservative causes and political candidates. He’s free to bankroll as many campaign ads as he pleases (or at least until our eyes and ears start to bleed), but for him to cry about welfare and entitlements, while getting a huge handout of his own…

        Let’s just say I don’t see the DeVos family as being benefactors to the Central Florida region. And I never will.

        • April 29, 2014

          I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you said… The team did include a big chunk of the Amway Center funding, but the thinly veiled threats of moving is right on the money. These owners know the leverage they have and I’m not surprised they use it – even though I wish cities would call the bluff more often than they do.

  2. Standingupforthelittleguy permalink
    April 29, 2014

    DeVos is a bigot, and yes he should be removed as an owner. His bigotry is on the exact same level as the Clippers owner. It is very clear.

    • Albiesure81 permalink
      May 2, 2014

      You are truly lost in this whole ordeal and must know nothing about the Donald Sterling situation. Donald Sterling was speaking hateful ,racist remarks and has a history of discrimination against minorities. There is absolutely no evidence that RDV has discriminated against any of the LG community.Rich doesn’t discriminate hiring of gay employees or advocate for them to be banned from the Amway Center. He may not agree with gay marriage but then again most politicians don’t either. Don’t lump him in with Sterling because that is truely ignorant.

      • Muko permalink
        May 2, 2014

        Depending on who you ask, bankrolling legislative efforts to ban gay marriage (and any political candidate who supports those efforts) could be seen as a discriminatory act.

  3. Phyllis Ireland permalink
    April 29, 2014

    I was an Amway distributor in the earlier days. We were told to keep our religion and politics out of the business. I guess when DeVos became filthy rich he forgot his own philosophy. Thank goodness I am out of it. Not sure Sterling should be “forced” to sell. I think that would take care of itself without the other owners getting involved. They will all be looking to save their own skins.

  4. Chicolombia permalink
    April 30, 2014

    This article is completely dumb and ignorant. The reason why the Sterling case was this significant is because 80% of players are African American, and his racist remarks offended most players/coaches/owners in the league. How are you gonna tell me that his religious views will cost him his ownership of the team? He’s not descrimating anything, unless you call all Christians/Catholics descriminators. Unless the NBA is full of Jason Collins, then nothing will happen. This is just a pointless article to grab attention and stir up more controversy.

    • April 30, 2014

      I bet many people would say that it is ignorant (much more than this article) to think that opposing rights for the LGBT community is not discrimination.

      • Chicolombia permalink
        April 30, 2014

        But how does this impact his ownership of the team? Racism is widely viewed as preposterous, but LGBT issues are completely different.

        • Muko permalink
          June 18, 2014

          Give it a generation or so. Homophobia will be widely viewed as preposterous, too.

  5. STUFF permalink
    April 30, 2014

    I too believe that Donald Sterling is a bigot and a racist, and shouldn’t be allowed to own an NBA team. But for you to compare RDV to Donald Sterling is ludacris. RDV is not a bigot, nice try, but your arguement is illogical. The equality of all persons does not equal the equality of all lifestyles or all relationships. For example, the mere fact that all persons are created equal does not mean that polygamy or incestual marriage should therefore to be made legal. You cannot move logically from the equality of persons to the equality of actions, choices, lifestyles, or relationships. It simply does not follow. Same sex marriage advocates are arguing that it’s wrong to make value judgments about marriage. Yet you allow yourselves to make value judgments about who should get to marry. Here again you fail logically. By insisting that same sex unions should be considered marriages on a par with heterosexual marriages, you make a value judgment about marriages, both their own marriages and those of others. If you are against making value judgments about marriage, then you have to stop saying what you say. But of course you won’t. Rather, you press your judgments on others while, at the same time, refusing to permit others to make judgments, like RDV.

    • Muko permalink
      April 30, 2014

      “Rather, you press your judgments on others while, at the same time, refusing to permit others to make judgments, like RDV.”

      Considering that DeVos himself has spent millions of dollars bankrolling efforts to write discrimination into our law books, it would appear that he is really the one pressing his judgment on others.

      Equating homosexuality to polygamy or incest is laughable, and in all honesty, I’m a little bit shocked that people of your ilk are still resorting to that straw man.

  6. Mario Leone permalink
    April 30, 2014

    here goes the liberal witch hunt…seriously is devos discriminating in the work place or his businesses? is he paying gay employees less or firing them over their sexuality? if the answer to all of those questions is no, then how do his personal views and donations matter? they don’t. not allowing him to donate to causes he may personally agree with is violating his free speech rights.

  7. amazed permalink
    May 3, 2014

    Why is it that people that support Gay marriage are correct and people that don’t support gay marriage are wrong? Who make this determination that if you do not agree with someone’s behavior that you are bigot. So if some one chooses to be a pedophile which is a chosen behavior and we say this wrong does this make bigots also. People say that believing in Christian faith that says certain behaviors are sin that makes them wrong who says so.

  8. veteran permalink
    May 3, 2014

    DeVos had a nice place for the Orlando Magic to play in, and it was not that old. He demanded Orlando build a new arena at TAXPAYERS’ expense, and he got it. Many taxpayers who do not have a lot of money paid for the second arena, and also paid to tear down the previous arena for this billionaire.

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