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.
For Christians, forgiving others is not only the logical and healthy thing to do; it’s a God-given commandment. It’s not optional. According to the Bible, Christ even said that people will be judged with the same harshness or leniency by which they judge others.
We all make mistakes. Our mistakes often serve as key teaching moments in our own lives and even for others. One of the most intelligent things a person can do is learn from the mistakes of others.
This situation with Sterling should be turned into a teaching moment. It’s not so much about race as it is understanding and love in general. Most of us may not be racist like Sterling, but we may have preconceived notions or false ideas about various types or groups of other people that we should give a little more thought to.
Some producer at a major TV network should organize a roundtable discussion involving a diverse, influential group of different types of people, including Sterling, discussing these topics of understanding and love.
For example, I would like to see Magic Johnson or Doc Rivers ask Sterling point blank, face to face, why he said the things he did about African Americans and others.
I would like to see the underlying forces that divide people, whether it be according to skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, or any other topic, openly dissected and discussed.
If Sterling truly is sorry for what he said then he should be open to this, not to try to change his standing with the NBA but because he should want to make amends and spread a new message.
A roundtable discussion like this would provide an opportunity for unified growth as families, communities and as a nation.
Regarding the question of whether Sterling deserves forgiveness — it is not actually about him or what he deserves; it is about what we want to allow ourselves to feel. It is not about whether Sterling deserves the freedom to own an NBA team; it is about our own freedom from hatred and anger. It is much easier for the NBA to ban hatred’s influence in its league than it is for us to ban it from our hearts.
Ironically, the only way we can ban the negativity of Sterling’s comments from our hearts, like the NBA did from its league, is to forgive him.
Maybe Sterling can get to the point where he can apologize sincerely, without dropping more insults at the same time. Maybe he can change. Maybe he could even work hard enough at making amends that he could be welcome to attend a Clippers’ game again someday as a fan.
Whatever Sterling does, or doesn’t do, we should all try to forgive him as he requested — not because he deserves it but for the greater good.
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free-throw line and can be reached at: [email protected] or @nategagon.