Do you hear that sound? That’s the sound of an old man digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole of his own making.
L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s interview with Anderson Cooper about his relationship with V. Stiviano, the team, and his racist ramblings will do him no favors with the NBA or the public at large. Instead of making a case for forgiveness, he reminded the league, the players and the fans why a discriminatory serial adulterer has no place in NBA ownership.
We’re used to celebrities and sports stars apologizing for being racist, sexist or homophobic. Kobe Bryant apologized for using a homophobic slur to insult an NBA referee during a game. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper apologized after getting caught on tape screaming, “I’ll fight every N-word in here” at a Kenny Chesney concert. Madonna apologized for referring to her son as a N-word on Instagram, and so on and so forth.
No one really knows if these people are sorry or that they wouldn’t do it again, but that’s not the point. The goal is to say you’re sorry, soak up some forgiveness and disappear before you say something more stupid.
Sterling’s apology in the interview with Cooper fails on all accounts.
The first problem is that Sterling doesn’t really say that he is sorry for what he said. “I’m sorry if I hurt or offended anyone” is the classic deflection of any real responsibility. Between his tales of sadness about being portrayed as a racist, Sterling also passive aggressively attacks Magic Johnson by suggesting he hasn’t “done enough” for black people, then saying that he was set up by his archivist/best friend/”silly rabbit” — but definitely not his mistress — V. Stiviano.
Furthermore, rationalizing his racist statements by saying he was just a dirty old man trying to sleep with a black girl 50 years younger than him isn’t going to get him much love in the black community (well, maybe with the now-former head of Los Angeles NAACP…).
And let’s be clear — Sterling has harmed more than just a few feelings. The Stiviano tape alone wouldn’t have led to Sterling getting banned for life from the NBA — it validated years of discrimination lawsuits by coaches, players and property tenants to the NBA and the public.
With two weeks of preparation, Sterling had the chance to make a case for keeping his team and not being a racist. He blew both chances with Cooper.
He failed to provide any sort of emotional or legal explanation for why he should be forgiven, and for the few wrongs he does acknowledge, he doesn’t offer to make amends. As much as he likes black women, I don’t think even Olivia Pope could pull Sterling out of the public relations crisis he’s dug for himself with this interview.
Sterling needed to not only apologize for his offensive statements, but also offer to make amends for his bad deeds. If he wants to be forgiven and given a second chance, as he claims in the interview, he needs to explain how he’s changed, what he will do differently and what forgiveness would look like. Because right now, he seems to think forgiveness looks like him getting off scot free, and that Clipper has already sailed