I thought it would be impossible to loathe still-Clippers owner Donald Sterling any more than I did after hearing his secretly recorded remarks in which he asked his half-black female companion to stop publicly associating with black people or bringing them to Clippers games and also threw Magic Johnson under the bus.
I also thought that maybe now that Sterling has been banned from all NBA events and is in jeopardy of losing ownership of the Clippers, he would have some sort of wake-up call about just how bad his antiquated outlook on “minorities” is. Or, at the very least, he’d be paranoid enough about his private thoughts that he would strike a more politically correct note in public. My bad.
When I learned that Sterling had sat for a one-on-one interview with Anderson Cooper, his first at-length statements since the fracas, I knew this was the beginning of an apology tour. A little late—two weeks after the fuss—but better late than never, I figured.
We—and certainly Sterling’s PR team—have seen enough successful acts of public contrition, from Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Melisa Harris-Perry, to name a few, that show how this is supposed to go. A proper mea culpa includes 1) a deeply felt, “I am sorry”; 2) acknowledgment of wrongdoing; 3) acknowledgment of pain caused; and 4) a personal apology shout-out to the people most offended.
If Sterling could have managed this, maybe there was the slightest chance that his fellow owners, who have yet to vote on whether he can remain owner of the Clippers, would show mercy and let him keep the team. (Far-fetched, I know, but he’s rich and white and male; they tend to get away with things most don’t.) Maybe Sterling’s enduring legacy would be more than the sugar daddy who liked to go on racist rants with his half-black alleged girlfriend. At the very least, with a proper apology, we could all wrap up this chapter in crazy news stories and move on to other fare.
But no. No. No No! Sterling blew the interview. He has enough money to buy the best crisis-management team in the business, and because it’s so dang simple to just apologize, there was no way he should have got this one wrong. He either has the worst publicist on earth or he just ignored any and all instruction. The interview was so appallingly bad that Cooper spent half of it wearing an expression that read, “Dude, you can’t be serious.”
Sterling apologized multiple times, but the tone was off. It came across as more like, “OK, I’m saying it, now forgive me,” than somethign he actually meant. But no one remembers it even happened because of all his other baffling remarks, including how “the blacks” want to play golf with him and, more outrageously, his new round of remarks about Magic Johnson, whom Sterling incorrectly referred to as having AIDS, even after Cooper corrected him. (Johnson is HIV-positive. There’s a difference.)
“He acts so holy,” Sterling said of Johnson, who he claimed advised him to remain quiet after the initial scandal broke two weeks ago. “He made love to every girl in every city in America and he had AIDS, and when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him, I hope he could live and be well. I didn’t criticize him. I could have. Is he an example for children?"
Let me get this straight: A long-married man—whose recent public implosion is the result of the recorded conversations possibly leaked by his alleged mistress, whom his wife sued for almost $2 million—is judging someone else’s alleged sexcapades from more than 20 years ago? Pot meet kettle.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Sterling wondered aloud, “But what does [Johnson] do for the black people? He doesn't do anything,”
Magic. Johnson. The NBA legend who, in addition to bringing businesses (and jobs!) to urban communities, has, more importantly, spent the last 20-plus years raising awareness about HIV/AIDS by encouraging testing and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color. Sterling is asking what Magic, of all people, has done for black folk? Did I hear that right?
Why was he talking about Magic instead of apologizing to Magic, along with a long list of other people, like the entire Clippers team, all the people employed by the Clippers, the NBA, his family, his friends? Where is the acknowledgment of pain and suffering that his words caused? It was all so simple, but Sterling apparently is too simple to get it and too rooted in racism to stop himself from offending people.
After the interview, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who is leading the charge to rid the NBA of Sterling, double-downed on his desire to get the Clippers owner far, far away from the NBA.
“The NBA board of governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible,” he said in a statement.
That time can’t come soon enough.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.