Sterling’s punishment provides a preview for the messiness of morphing the public and private together. Employers have already fired employees for Facebook profile updates embarrassing to their reputation, and universities have suspended students for the same. At least, Facebook is publicly visible, and users voluntarily advertise their views, photos, and activities. Anyone who is comfortable with the NBA penalizing Sterling for his remarks must also approve of any employer firing any employee for the content of private conversations.
It is hypocritical to celebrate Sterling’s ban from the NBA without applauding of a business owner who fires one of his salesmen, because he hears about how the salesman made an anti-gay joke to his wife at the dining room table.
Americans should take joy and comfort in the evolution of ostracizing a man for racist opinions entirely acceptable in mainstream debate from public figures just a few decades ago, but they should also reject the presumption that a man’s home is no longer his castle, but his broadcasting booth. As much as any decent society should despise racist speech, it should not indulge outrage over racist commentary to the point of encouraging the erasure of the border between private and public life, the destruction of free speech culture, and the death of the stoicism essential for social and spiritual strength.