10 Brief Thoughts on Donald Sterling's Truly Insane CNN Interview
1. When issuing an apology for being racist, there are certain guidelines you should follow.
The first is a no-brainer: "Don't be racist." But disgraced LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling isn't much for guidelines. He proved this during an interview with Anderson Cooper last night when he tried apologizing to “everyone [he] hurt” with the racist comments made in a tape-recorded conversation with his girlfriend V. Stiviano.
2. Highlights of that tape include some true gems of poor taste. Here's a sample platter:
“You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”
And then there was this:
“Don’t put [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
Image Credit: Heavy
3. Guideline #2: "Don't mess with Magic Johnson."
This comment about Magic proved to be the catalyst for one of the most half-assed “apologies” in recent memory – an effort so painfully misguided it borders on hilarity. After insisting that he’s “not a racist” and that his racist comments were actually just “a huge mistake,” Sterling segued into an explanation of why Jews are inherently more generous than black people. Really.
4. Here's how that went:
Sterling: “What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done? That’s one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people, and some of the African-Americans – maybe I’ll get in trouble again – they don’t want to help anybody.”
Cooper: “So are you saying that African-Americans don’t contribute to African-American communities as much as Jewish people –“
Sterling (interrupting): “There’s no African-American… Never mind, I don’t know, I’m sorry.”
5. Yeah, maybe stop talking now. But it didn’t end there. Sterling also questioned Magic’s validity as a role model for kids because “he made love to every girl in every city in America” and “had AIDS.” (For the record, Magic Johnson does not have AIDS.)
“He acts so holy,” Sterling added disdainfully.
6. But are we really that surprised? That a public apology for racist comments could deteriorate so quickly into a bizarre series of personal attacks is a testament to Sterling’s polarizing and contradictory nature. The man has a history: Even amidst charges of racism and ageism from former employees and a Department of Justice investigation into his discriminatory housing policies, Sterling’s money – he’s worth an estimated $1.9 billion – has let him placate critics via lavish displays of generosity, often directed toward black people.
Image Credit: Jocks and Stilletto Jill
7. Wow. To illustrate this pattern, Bill Simmons at Grantland writes about “one of Sterling’s favorite tricks over the years”:
“Anytime he landed in hot water racially, because of a housing discrimination lawsuit, an inappropriate comment or something else, you could count on a minority mysteriously popping up in his [courtside] seats.”
Aside from this, Sterling has been known to donate large sums to black and/or charitable organizations during trying times, taking out full-page ads in Los Angeles newspapers to broadcast his generosity. Since day one, his attempts at atonement seemed forced and unnatural. Knowing this, could his CNN “apology” really have gone any other way?
8. But he is who he is, and always has been. And despite whatever pleasure we’ve drawn from his comeuppance – that feeling of long-deferred justice finally coming home to roost – it’s hard not to also think of him as an 80-year-old man battling cancer and possibly senility, a man who must finally suffer the consequences of the petty terrors and injustices he’s unleashed on those around him. It's sad, really.
9. So does he deserve our pity? Maybe. Maybe not. But as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in an op-ed some weeks back, we certainly did him and ourselves few favors by failing to subject him to a public flaying sooner. Like back when he was rejecting potential tenants because they were black or Latino, for instance.
How much longer might Sterling’s reign have poisoned his organization and city had the tape not leaked and backlash ensued? We’ll never know.
One Clippers employee captured his legacy best: “We’re sitting here feeling like WE did something wrong. That’s the worst part. You have people yelling at you, ‘How can you work for that guy?’ and you can’t even come up with an answer. There’s no answer.”
10. And what are we left with? Far from the heartfelt apology Sterling had planned, the CNN interview was just another example of why he is where he is today. A lifetime of racism and half-assed attempts at placation came to a head, and though it’s debatable whether a $2.5 million fine and lifetime ban from the NBA really means much to an aging billionaire, it clearly means a lot to the players and fans who turned so swiftly against him once his misdeeds came to their attention.
One only wishes it had happened sooner. In the meantime, let's hope Sterling clears his calendar of any future public appearances.