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Donald Sterling could be bad for MLB

CRPerry13 imagines where the aftermath of the Donald Sterling racism scandal could go, and the potential impact on MLB

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I find the whole Donald Sterling soap opera fascinating.  How can he, in today's politically-correct charged society, be so stupid as to utter such blatant racism to his side-piece, who is half-black, even in private?  Is he so ignorant that he thinks a 20-something-year-old woman who looks like a model is interested in a wrinkly, fat, octogenarian for his looks or charm?  With a little foresight, he should have realized that when things inevitably turned sour between them, a gold-digger would be in a position to get what she wants from him regardless of any romantic entanglement, and so he should have kept his private bigotry to himself.

Her vindictiveness doesn't excuse his racist attitude, and some consequences were merited when it became public.  Those consequences include a lifetime ban from association with the team that he owns.

But what happens next?

Sterling is a multi-billionaire who reportedly built his fortune as a slum lord, taking advantage of the poor to build his own personal empire.  He's a man with a history of immorality, or at best, lousy ethics in the sense that he has been more than willing to exploit disadvantaged people in the interest of personal gain.  It's not a long leap to think, after being banned for life and roundly vilified by his boys-club NBA partners, that he could be a vindictive man as well.

So what could Sterling do from here?  Here are some steps that I can imagine a vindictive, bitter, embarrassed, 80-year old billionaire taking:

  • Sue the NBA and challenge the anti-trust law that gives it and the other owners the right to dictate how he runs and participates in his own business, as well as their right to force him to sell the Clippers
  • Hire personal investigators to dig up dirt on his fellow owners, sure to be found in many cases, which he can subsequently and anonymously leak to TMZ, putting the NBA in the awkward position of needing to discipline a large number of their members.
  • Refuse to sell the Clippers.  He's an 80-year-old billionaire.  What's the loss of advertising revenue to him?  What does he care if the only players that want to play for his club are the bottom-tier dregs, and that he has to pay double their worth just to put a team on the floor?

The first bullet could affect baseball.  Baseball's anti-trust exemption has been around since 1922, and the world has obviously changed since then.  The exemption has been controversial since it was first awarded, and it is easy to imagine that in may be overturned in the politically-contentious early 21st Century.  Here are some of the possible results of professional sports losing its anti-trust exemption (and remember, I am no legal expert, nor an expert on anti-trust laws).

  • MLB no longer will have the right to contract the league, or at least it could be legally contested.  It will no longer have the right to force a team to switch leagues.
  • MLB might not have the right to refuse participation to somebody who builds a new club outside of the current boundaries of MLB and wants to compete on that level.  What if the Jethawks' owners decide that they no longer want to be an A+ team, but want to compete at the highest level instead?  It's only a lawsuit away.
  • MLB might lose its ability to approve its owners - the sale of a team can go to highest bidder, at the whim of the seller.
  • The clubs truly become independent companies, with independent ownership groups that are not answerable to the oversight of MLB or the other owners.  They could legally challenge MLB's right to regulate how they spend their money.
  • Profit sharing could go away.  Why would the Yankees give the Rays their money unless forced into it?
  • MLB becomes more like the NCAA...a governing body that exists at the whim of its members -- one with few teeth, decreasing respect, and little function other than to organize playoff series.
  • Global distribution of product through MLB (MLB.TV, souvenirs, clothing) would need to be negotiated with each individual team.  Perhaps the Yankees charge MLB a higher percentage to sell Jeter jerseys than Solarte jerseys.  Negotiations might be with individual players, even.
  • The general public or the state could sue individual clubs for price gouging (concessions, ticket prices)
  • The MLB Players' Union becomes a more powerful entity.  They can bring lawsuits against individual clubs or individuals without the shadow of the anti-trust exemption being used as a defense in court.

  • Players may have the right to void their contracts at any time, just as you and I can quit our jobs.  GMs can recruit from other clubs, because it is now essentially a free market.  Don't want to play for the loser Astros, Jason Castro?  Devin Mesoraco just got hurt.  The Reds are willing to sign you to a new 3-year contract for $10 million a year.  Toodles, Mr. Luhnow, I'm going to Cincy.

If Sterling wants to, he can make life miserable for professional sports.  2014 is politically different from the 90's when Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner received their bans (subsequently overturned).  It is not difficult to imagine a situation where a bitter old billionaire goes to battle against the anti-trust laws to get back the rights to run the team he owns, and it's similarly easy to imagine a situation where the U.S. justice system overturns the anti-trust exemptions for professional sports that were put in place almost a hundred years ago.

H/T to my dad for setting me along this line of thinking, and for the CBS link.