Clay Travis, author of Fox Sports's Outkick the Coverage blog, sure is bent out of shape about ... uh, some damn thing. Internet mobs? The Baltimore Ravens? Something called "fauxrage"? The Real Racists? People all thinking the same thing all the time? Sure!
Take it away, Clay:
Again, I'd ask you, if you look around and everyone has the exact same opinion as you, doesn't that make you a bullying mob?
"Hey Clay, we're all in the mood for Arby's today. Wanna come alo—"
"Back off, Hitler!"
Who the fuck even knows what Clay's on about in this shit. The Miami Dolphins suspended defensive back Don Jones for homophobic tweets about Michael Sam, but the Baltimore Ravens didn't punish Ray Rice for assaulting a woman, and thus the "internet mob" is a bunch of bullying hypocrites enacting their own "reverse Red Scare." This is extra bad because the major sports leagues are monopolies, unlike Wal-Mart. And this has nothing to do with the First Amendment, but also does, or maybe it does? Internet users are supposed to certify that they've apportioned the correct allotment of cares toward Ray Rice's disgusting behavior before they speak out against homophobia, or something?
False equivalencies abound, and by the time you've worked out which thing is like the other, and why, the notion has gone dead. (This is a type of argument favored by internet trolls the world over: create a distraction by tossing out false equivalencies left and right, and then sneak through an accusation of hypocrisy.) From what I gather, ol' Clay wants us to be nicer to Donald Sterling, or I guess we're not supposed to be any meaner to Donald Sterling than we were to Jim Irsay, because pills and bills will break my bones but words will never hurt me, or something. Some shit. I don't know. At some point he started ranting about Kobe Bryant and, like, how people care more about racism than about rape, or something? Or can't care about both at the same time? Or people who are opposed to rape have a responsibility to disagree with Kobe Bryant about racism? Or, like, the NBA is supposed to let Donald Sterling be a gross racist because Kobe isn't in prison? I don't know, man, I got dizzy and knocked over a lamp. You take a crack at it.
Kobe Bryant said there was no place in the NBA for Donald Sterling. The mob cheered his taking a stand and demanded blood. Evidently forgetting that Kobe Bryant allegedly raped a woman in Colorado. He played through the pre-trail hearings in that case and then bought off his accuser, apologizing to her in the process. That's a pretty serious transgression, right? It's an actual action. Yet if Donald Sterling had to choose whether to be accused of rape and buy off his alleged victim or caught on tape making a racist statement, he'd pick being accused of rape.
[crashes into lamp again]
I'll square with you, reader: I may not have given this thing the most generous reading. To be honest, though, I was pretty distracted by all the weird one-sentence paragraphs. The entire back half of the column reads like he put a bunch of fortune cookies in a lottery tumbler, then drew them out and transcribed them one-by-one, with like three carriage returns between them.
Angry words! Exact same opinions! Mob rule! Fauxrage!
Why is the mob fickle and inconsistent about these issues?
Because all mobs are fickle, inconsistent, and come with their own preconceived agendas in place.
So why does the Internet treat words as the ultimate sin, worse than actual actions?
We've got it totally backwards.
And that's scary.
It's like sandwich-board conspiranoia, written by George Will's glue-huffing cousin, or potboiler prose, written by the back of Ann Coulter's head.
You'd like your sportswriters to assemble their thoughts into coherent paragraphs.
But you can't always get what you want.
Because sacrifices free speech mob grumble fart.
This dog's breakfast of an argument actually does contain the kernel of a thought worth engaging, though, if you can haul it out from under the lousy, nigh-incoherent prose and bad-faith false equivalences. It's the notion that the "internet mob"—or at least an internet mob, distinct from the one to which Travis is pandering here—roused itself to punish Donald Sterling for what's essentially thoughtcrime, and that, as a result of having bad opinions, Donald Sterling is being stripped of property and position that rightfully belong to him.
The problem with this argument is that it draws a completely artificial boundary dividing Donald Sterling, the guy with racist opinions, from Donald Sterling, the sports team owner and billionaire slumlord. As if his toxic opinions were just these abstract personal things, like style choices: You can like them or not like them—Ooh, that tie is really bad with that shirt—but they don't ramify out into the world outside of the private space where he made them. As if (as Sterling himself argued, in his conversation with V. Stiviano and again with Anderson Cooper) the racist shit he thinks never informs his actions—which, to hear him tell it, are those of a great benefactor to the minorities he despises in his thoughts.
Adam Silver gave some cover to this argument in his press conference announcing Sterling's lifetime ban (and the NBA's intent to strip him of team ownership), when he insisted that the league formulated its punishment solely as a consequence of Sterling's recorded remarks, and didn't consider anything outside of those remarks at all. His reasons for doing so are easy enough to understand: The NBA has an interest in inoculating itself against charges that it can only be stirred to care about an owner's many decades of well-documented toxicity and outright abuse when a public relations disaster forces its hand. It prefers that you think it was stirred to act against Sterling by an offense warranting punishment all by itself, even though the owner's ban was pretty plainly "a kind of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Racism," to borrow Dan Le Batard's phrase. Plainly for some, at least. For the guys looking for an excuse to make siren noises with their mouths and inveigh against the totalitarian encroachment of the political-correctness state, this must've sounded like the rumbling engines of inbound Luftwaffe.
But Silver also made a point of saying that the remarks represent Sterling's "views," that they weren't idle thoughts spoken in a fit of pique. Given that these views were essentially the intellectual underpinning of the plantation, and given that Sterling was offering up not just racial dogma but a theory of management, it isn't hard to draw a line between Sterling-the-racist-dude and Sterling-the-public-actor. Remember what he said about his black players on those tapes?
I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?
Words, Travis would say, not action. So let's talk about action. In his capacity as a sports team owner, Sterling has heckled his black players from the sidelines; brought women into the locker room to ogle his players' "beautiful black bodies," and been sued by former Clippers vice president of basketball operations Elgin Baylor, who alleged race-based employment discrimination and who referred to Sterling's "plantation mentality." (Baylor wound up losing his suit.) Sterling's own employees have testified that, in his capacity as a real estate magnate and slumlord, Sterling sought to drive out black and Latino tenants because he (ahem) believed that "black people smell and attract vermin" and "Hispanics just smoke and hang around the building." In 2003, he settled a housing discrimination complaint brought against him by the Housing Rights Center of Los Angeles; in 2006, he paid $2.7 million to settle another housing discrimination lawsuit, this time brought against him by the U.S. Department of Justice. That latter settlement is the largest of its kind in U.S. history.
Travis mentions none of these things. Why? There's no particular reason to divide these actions from the now recorded and published thoughts that animated them. There's no particular reason for the public, or the NBA, to expect Sterling to quit acting on the thoughts that led him to systematically abuse his minority tenants for decades. Sterling did us all a favor on these tapes: He articulated with great precision the simple-minded philosophy that undergirded all those actions. He presented us with a worldview, round and whole, that connected all the dots between his racism and his way of doing business. You don't get this very often. The people who do the redlining in America rarely explain themselves.
The bummer of an argument like the one Clay Travis and the many, many, oh god so fucking many like-minded white dudes are making is that we don't get to see its inner workings. We aren't privy to the spectacular intellectual contortions required to arrive at a viewpoint whereby ...
a) a predatory slumlord who says he hates black people is just a free American expressing an ugly but harmless opinion, but
b) a bunch of schmo internet users who say that predatory slumlord should be removed from the NBA are a dangerous oppressive force, but
c) a different bunch of schmo internet users who take up their keyboards to lambaste ESPN for showing a gay kiss on television are just free Americans expressing ugly but harmless opinions, but
d) the internet users who call those people bigots and morons are intolerant thought-police.
See if you can make anything of it. From over here, it sure as hell looks like Clay Travis is arguing that the sharp sentiments directed by a bunch of het-up Twitter users toward a powerful bigot constitute dangerous oppression—but that the things that same bigot did to chase poor black and Latino people out of his apartments are no big deal at all. The former is a collection of words; the latter is a series of explicit actions. "We need to be giving words less attention and actions more," he writes. OK, Clay. You first.