For the past several weeks, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been at the center of several NBA stories regarding racist comments captured on tape, his subsequent banishment from the league and other owners' early moves towards removing him from ownership. On Sunday night, the public heard some of Sterling's first interview on the situation. His comments are not likely to change many opinions.
In a preview of an interview set to air on "Anderson Cooper 360" on Monday night, Sterling spoke about the comments recorded by V. Stiviano, his future in the NBA, and several other topics related to the controversy. From CNN.com:
"When I listen to that tape, I don't even know how I can say words like that. ... I don't know why the girl had me say those things," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview set to air on Monday.
"You're saying you were set up?" Cooper asked.
"Well yes, I was baited," Sterling said. "I mean, that's not the way I talk. I don't talk about people for one thing, ever. I talk about ideas and other things. I don't talk about people."
When not attempting to explain that he was taken out of context, Sterling apologized and asked for forgiveness:
"I'm not a racist," Sterling told Cooper. "I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I'm here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I've hurt."
Asked by Cooper why he took so long to say he's sorry, Sterling said he was "emotionally distraught."
"The reason it's hard for me, very hard for me, is that I'm wrong. I caused the problem. I don't know how to correct it," he said. [...]
"I'm a good member who made a mistake and I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness," he said. "Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake, and I'll never do it again."
Sterling also took the time to insult the charitable efforts of NBA legend Magic Johnson, mentioned in the offending recordings as someone who should not be seen in public with Stiviano:
Sterling told CNN he's spoken twice with Johnson. "Did you apologize to him?" Cooper asked.
"If I said anything wrong, I'm sorry," Sterling said. "He's a good person. I mean, what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. But I'll say it, he's great. But I don't think he's a good example for the children of Los Angeles."
The full interview will air on Monday's episode of "Anderson Cooper 360" at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
If this preview is any indication, then this interview will be very bizarre. For one thing, Sterling's apology, insofar as it exists at all, appears to apologize less for the substance of his statements than the fact that people were offended by them. In claiming that he was baited, Sterling seems to be saying he was taken out of context. While it's hard to know how additional context would make his comments permissible, this tactic is a standard method of shirking responsibility for controversial statements.
On top of all that, Sterling attempts to paint this controversy as an isolated incident rather than the latest event in a long history of marks against the owner. Sterling has paid out a record settlement in a housing discrimination lawsuit, been accused of fostering a "plantation mentality" by longtime general manager Elgin Baylor, and generally been seen as a problematic part of the NBA for years. As Adrian Wojnarowski reported at the beginning of this most recent ordeal, the NBA believed that Sterling would die before they had to deal with him directly. This incident is only his first mistake if we define the term as "doing something that compels the NBA to try to kick him out." (Of course, Sterling is a lawyer by training, and in a legal sense he may be right.)
Yet these comments at least allow us to see Sterling as sticking up for himself and trying to save his ownership stake. In a more general sense, his statements make little sense. What does it mean to talk only about ideas and not people? And what could compel a man currently under fire for racist comments to say that Magic Johnson does not help minorities to his liking and should not serve as a role model for the children of Los Angeles? Even if these opinions could be proven or argued effectively, why would anyone think it a reasonable thing to say in these circumstances?
Sterling wants forgiveness, but these comments suggest his contrition is lacking. It would be immensely shocking to see Sterling get the reprieve he wants. Like his estranged wife Rochelle, he will probably need to take the NBA to court to maintain control of the Clippers.