You could go long in staging a debate on the comparative virtues and vices of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and soon-to-be-former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The allegations about Sterling’s housing discrimination probably outweigh Snyder’s generally obnoxious business practices. But one thing is sure: As these men face pressure from the public (and, in Sterling’s case, from his league), both seem determined to extract as high a cost as possible in the battles to come.
Sterling, who was disgraced earlier this year after he was caught on tape making disparaging remarks about African Americans (and who continued to dig a hole for himself thereafter) was banned from the National Basketball Association. The league wants to force him to sell the team, and his estranged wife Rochelle brokered a potential sale.
Rather than accepting what will be a very handsome profit, in a sense a large compensation for behaving poorly, Sterling is fighting the sale in court, suggesting that his wife did not have the authority to make the deal without him. His side’s tactics suggest a long and potentially embarrassing battle, including an attempt to move the case from state to federal court, Sterling’s refusal to show up on the first day of the trial and a host of objections.
It would be nice to think that Sterling would be content to collect his money and avoid an embarrassing public examination of his mental state and personal relationships. That scenario would suggest that Sterling is aware of and amenable to public judgment of his views and his conduct. But the Sterlings spent years profiting from allegedly discriminatory behavior, despite multiple lawsuits against them. That Sterling would reject the idea that simple remarks should keep him from running his business how he likes seems entirely in line with his past practices.
Then there is Dan Snyder, who is playing a long game. Last week, my colleague Dan Steinberg flagged an assessment from former Redskins radio host Vinny Cerrato of what it would take for Snyder to change the name of his team. The term “Redskins” has drawn extensive criticism from Native American groups and lawmakers, and the team recently lost its trademark registration for the name.
“It’s not about the money. Dan’s got a ton of money,” Cerrato said. “He’ll fight this. I said this when this first started a year ago or whatever, I said the only way I see him eventually changing the name is if — if — he gets a new stadium out of it, downtown, where old RFK was. And he builds a stadium bigger than [Jerry Jones's], which he would do, bigger and better than Jerry’s. He gets a Super Bowl. All that. I said that’s the way that maybe he would change the name. Getting the property, getting the land, getting a good deal from the city to make concessions to change the name.”
In other words, it is entirely about the money.
There is something truly audacious about the idea that Snyder might be holding on to the Redskins name not simply as an act of stubrbornness but as a business opportunity, a card to trade for the sorts of concessions that he would not be able to extract otherwise. If this is what he really wants, it poses a terrible choice for the region: to cut the sort of financial deal that cities have made and regretted over and over again in exchange for expunging a national embarrassment.
It would be nice if the people who stand athwart history yelling “show me the money” knew that they were exacting costs to their reputations that might someday outweigh their pecuniary gains. But you don’t get to be the last men standing in defense of the right to behave as poorly by showing much regard for what other people think of you.