What To Do With Donald Sterling: Is there grace for the graceless?
Over the weekend, perfectly in time to add the worst kind of drama to a NBA playoff series chock-full of the absolute best kind of drama, an audio recording alleged to be of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was leaked and it was...not good.
Full of completely unacceptable and unbecoming sentiments towards minorities in general and blacks specifically, the recording is latest in what has apparently been a long line of bad behavior by a billionaire who has too high an opinion of himself and too low an opinion of others (If you want a recap you get it here).
The reactions have been swift and strict with NBA legends such as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan expressing their belief that the league has no room for people of Sterling's ilk when it comes to ownership positions. Sterling's own team instigated a protest when they simultaneously shed their warm-up jerseys at half-court and then wore their shooting shirts inside-out so as not to display the team name except when absolutely necessary during game-play. Now, the league is investigating, the players' association is calling for the "maximum penalty" and the consensus is clear.
Donald Sterling needs to be shown the door and then be booted through it.
But is he so bad?
Let me ask it this way: Is he so bad when compared to the rest of us?
While it is true that many around the league were less than shocked because Sterling apparently already has a rep for this kind of thing, the majority of Americans who were introduced to this controversy when they tuned-in to watch some dramatic NBA Playoff action over the weekend are judging Sterling based on a private conversation that seems to have taken place in his home and was recorded and broadcast without his knowledge or permission. And while this doesn't excuse or somehow erase his words and sentiment, it might be worth the time to stop and wonder if our public face would be similarly decimated if our private thoughts were attached to it.
Let me be clear, I think Sterling should sell his team and clear out.
I think everyone, especially the black members of his organization, should find his comments despicable and disgusting.
If I were a Clippers fan, I'd be mad. If I were a basketball professional employed by Sterling I would want out of there ASAP. If were a basketball professional who was offered a position within that organization I would refuse it.
But I think forcing him out because of the released audio may be a mistake. It may be an irreversible, bridge-to-far kind of an error that sets a bad precedent when it comes to how we deal with people who have repugnant, detestable, but fully legal views. Sure, it's emotionally satisfying to crucify him on the cross of public-opinion and then feed his carcass to the birds of...something, but the Golden Rule still exists even when we're talking about eighty-year-old racist billionaires.
Do unto others.....
I think our responsibility is to extend to Sterling the grace which he has no right to expect, but which we have the responsibility of expressing. This doesn't mean his antics should be ignored, but in order to show him how people ought to act and how the powerful ought to treat those with less power, it would be a show of grace if the NBA were to give the man the opportunity to display the grace he clearly lacks and step out quickly and quietly so that his seat can be filled by another.
If he doesn't, and if he has to be forced out, let it be by the fans who dare to stay home on gamenight, the coaches principled enough to care more about depth of character than depth of bank accounts, and the players confident enough in their own abilities to turn down a job when the paycheck is signed with a slur.
Donald Sterling may be a man without class, honor, or grace, but that's exactly the kind of person to whom grace should be shown, otherwise grace is just as hollow as his heart.