Mark J. Terrill, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Donald Sterling has asked for forgiveness and a second chance.
Should he get it?
Yes, and no.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday, Sterling said things like (in no particular order): “I’m a good member who made a mistake. I love my league; I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake after 35 years? I’m not a racist. I made a terrible mistake.”
Sterling also took a random shot at Magic Johnson during the interview, saying he doesn’t think Johnson is “a good example for the children of Los Angeles.” Whatever that means.
Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers was asked about the interview and summed it up quite well when he said: “That doesn’t sound like much of an apology to me.”
Perhaps the most thought-provoking takeaway from the interview was that Sterling said: “I’m apologizing, and I’m asking for forgiveness.”
When I heard the recent recording of Sterling making his puke-worthy racist comments, it struck me mostly as incoherent ramblings from a disturbed man of failing health both mentally and physically. Much of what he said didn’t even make sense. The events since, including the ill-fated CNN interview, have only reinforced this.
Sterling’s remarks do not represent the feelings of others, nor are they indicative of a societal problem at large. Racism may still be an issue in America in some ways, but not Sterling's brand of racism.
Still, while no one should question his or her self-worth because of Sterling's remarks, any more than they should take personal offense over bird droppings, the NBA made the right choice to cut ties and cast him out.
So, then, how do we deal with the fact that Sterling is asking for forgiveness?
It’s actually pretty simple.
Forgiveness is a personal human emotion; it’s not something that can be issued like a certificate or a court ruling or as a society.
Forgiveness for Donald Sterling has nothing to do with whether or not he gets to keep his NBA team; and if that is his motivation then his apology is hollow.
Owning an NBA team is not a right, it’s a privilege with conditions and commitments, like freedom. It can be taken away if it is abused or mishandled.
If a person commits a terrible crime against me or my family, I can forgive the offender in my heart while at the same time fighting to have him or her put in prison for the protection of others, for the prevention of more crimes, for the greater good.
Maybe Sterling didn’t break any laws of his country, but he did break the laws of the NBA. He doesn’t deserve to be thrown in prison or to be abused or to have his home taken from him. He does, however, deserve to lose his NBA team for the greater good. He does not deserve a "second chance" as an NBA owner.
Forgiveness is altogether a separate matter.
Forgiveness will either take place, or not take place, in the hearts of all of us that were offended or repulsed by Sterling’s racism.
Both the concepts of “apologizing” and “forgiving” are vague, complex and nearly impossible to prove. We’ll probably never know how truly apologetic or sorry Sterling is for what he said, and we’ll never know who has truly forgiven him, regardless of what is said and done in public.
What is certain is that hate and other negative emotions ultimately harm those that house and nourish them more than anyone else. Hating someone just gives them influence in your life. That’s the irony of it.
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