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Donald Sterling not denied freedom of speech

by Greg Belfrage

It would have been hard to miss the controversy this week over racist comments made by Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Sterling received a lifetime ban from the NBA yesterday after admitting it was his voice heard on damning audio tapes.

The news coverage has been so over the top that many are critical of the mainstream media. However, the media's preoccupation with a single story to the exclusion of everything else is nothing new. Hardly a week goes by that the media isn't blowing a minor story way out of proportion while offering little or no coverage of more significant events.

As a result, I'm hearing a growing number of people exclaim, "I couldn't care less".

That response is just as reactionary and knee-jerk as the purely emotional, gut reaction to Sterling's blatant racism.

Sterling's comments should trouble all of us. I was quite taken aback by Sterling's hatred and intolerance for others based simply on their skin color. We shouldn't bury our heads in the sand and pretend this kind of bigotry doesn't exist.

Similarly, I am disturbed that this was a private conversation made public. The woman who recorded the call illegally should face prosecution.

It's also hard to see how the resulting public firestorm is justified. The man's reputation has been almost completely destroyed within 48 hours. The public has come down on Sterling like angry villagers on Frankenstein's castle. Sterling's comments were wrong, but that doesn't make the public over-reaction right.

If you're looking for some insightful and thoughtful commentary on the NBA's reaction to Sterling's comments, I suggest the following:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Welcome to the Finger-Wagging Olympics

Jason Whitlock: Culture Clash

One of the other things I've heard repeatedly over the past few days is that Sterling has been deprived of his freedom of speech.

That statement is completely untrue and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the First Amendment

The constitutional right to free speech applies to the government, not the general public. It prohibits the government from punishing or prosecuting Sterling for his viewpoint.

However, the general public is free to exert all the pressure on Sterling it wishes. That's why it's so critically important that we do so responsibly and avoid these mad rushes to judgement.

Greg Belfrage @belfrageshow is heard 6am-9am on KELO 1320 AM and 107.9 FM. Greg can be contacted at greg.belfrage@mwcradio.com.