Skip to main content

Sterling apology was an epic fail

By Lauren M. Bloom
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lauren Bloom: Sterling's self-serving apology confirmed the worst everyone thinks of him
  • Bloom: His pleas for forgiveness and self-justification were a blatant bid to keep Clippers
  • His excuse? He was "baited." She says attacking Magic Johnson is big mistake
  • Bloom: What he got right: Admitted he said ugly things, hurt people, lawsuit too costly

Editor's note: Lauren M. Bloom is an attorney and author of the award-winning book "Art of the Apology: How, When and Why to Give and Accept Apologies." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Disgraced L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling dug himself in even deeper during an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday night. Sterling purportedly went on CNN to apologize for his appallingly racist rant that V. Stiviano, an attractive young woman whom Sterling calls a "friend," had audiotaped and released almost two weeks earlier. After the team publicly protested his actions and the NBA fined him and banned him from basketball for life, Sterling had a lot to apologize for, and in the interview with Cooper, he apparently gave it his best shot.

Unfortunately for Sterling, though, he only succeeded in confirming the worst that everyone already thought of him. Sterling's "apology" was about as bad as it gets.

Lauren Bloom
Lauren Bloom

Although he claimed to be "so apologetic," his expressions of regret morphed immediately into pleas for forgiveness and self-justification. He cited his 35 years in basketball to argue that he was entitled to "one mistake," a blatant bid to retain ownership of the Clippers that was apparently based on the erroneous assumption that experience trumps bigotry.

He effectively denied responsibility for his offensive behavior by accusing Stiviano of "baiting him," as if any provocation could justify his racist diatribe. For some inexplicable reason, he leveled another blistering attack at Magic Johnson, a beloved sports hero whose foundation has raised millions to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and provide mentoring and scholarships for minority students, arguing that Johnson hadn't done enough for the black community.

Donald Sterling on Magic Johnson
Sterling: Magic Johnson acts so holy
Sterling: 'I thought she cared for me'
Was jealousy behind Sterling's remarks?

Astonishingly, Sterling then blamed Johnson's advice for his failure to come forward soon after the recordings became public. Sterling is an adult, with access to clocks and calendars. He didn't need Johnson to tell him that his opportunity to apologize credibly was quickly slipping away.

Although Sterling's performance Monday night was so utterly abysmal as to call his mental competence into question, the failure of his apology lies not in his delivery but in his intent. Apologies aren't about public relations, they're about human relations, and they're an essential part of maintaining the mutual respect and consideration that people owe to each other no matter how much wealth or power they might have.

An apology can succeed only if it is sincere. To apologize effectively, Sterling would have to be sincerely sorry for the pain he inflicted. Sadly, it was pretty apparent Monday night that he's not. No amount of self-serving blather could cover up his fundamental indifference to the feelings of those he hurt.

For all his pratfalls Monday night, Sterling got three things right.

Opinion: The 5 apology rules that Sterling broke

First, although he did his best to backpedal, he admitted that he had said the ugly things that Stiviano caught on tape. That has serious implications for the L.A. Clippers and the NBA. Basketball players, like other employees, are entitled to protection from illegal employment discrimination. Sterling may deny being racist, but his words say otherwise, and his continued association with the team would call the intent behind every management action into question. The Clippers and their fans don't deserve to see the team mired in allegations of discrimination and threats of litigation. Sterling has become a serious legal risk, and for the good of the game, he really needs to step down.

Second, Sterling was right that a protracted lawsuit over his continued ownership of the team would benefit no one. Litigation is rarely the best way to solve problems, and this would be an expensive, ugly fight that no one would win. It was heartening to hear Sterling say that he'll abide by whatever decision his fellow owners reach. One can only hope that he won't change his mind.

Sterling to AC: You're more of a racist

Third, and most important, Sterling was right when he admitted that he'd hurt a lot of people: his ex-wife, the team, the fans, the NBA and everyone else who believes that racism has no place in a decent society. What he doesn't seem to understand is that the feelings of other people matter, and to deliberately injure other people by pretending that their skin color makes them "inferior" is downright shameful. The words hurt, and the attitude behind them hurts still more.

Sterling has every reason to be sorry for what he said and still sorrier for the unexamined arrogance that led him to say it. He owes a lot of people an apology, but until he gets his mind right, anything he says will simply do more damage. It's time for Donald Sterling to step away from the Clippers and spend some time examining his prejudices. Until he's humbled enough to apologize sincerely, though, it would be better for everyone, himself included, if he'd just keep mum.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:30 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT