Skip to main content

Sterling apology was an epic fail

By Lauren M. Bloom
May 14, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT