Sports Ethics

ETHICAL? Donald Sterling’s private comments create a public consequence?

By April 30, 2014 No Comments

Times they are a changing and the problem with times like these are that the concept of privacy is eroding so quickly that the rules have become blurred.  The challenge today is knowing when and where one’s private thoughts and feelings have a safe place to be contained and expressed.  This has never been more Donald Sterling1evident than the NBA controversy over Donald Sterling’s private comments – now public.

Focusing on his twisted life view, it seems that we are missing a much bigger and broader issue.  Are we in the midst of a time when the ability to express private thought (regardless of how misguided) is gone?

LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling is the poster child for what can happen when you cross people with different motives – example his “girlfriend”.  Seems Ms. Stiviano decided to tape a private conversation that she had with Sterling (a conversation taped without Sterling’s knowledge is illegal in California).  To put matters into perspective, the taped conversation is illegal and could not be used as evidence in a court of law!  Hum…so if that’s the case then how did Donald Sterling gain the outcome dished out by the NBA?  Ah…the court of public opinion!


I believe that Donald Sterling’s comments expressed are misguided, disgusting and reprehensible.

However, they are his private thoughts expressed to his “girlfriend” in an angry exchange.  As such, I have to ask the question – who are we to cast the first stone?  Honestly, how many of us have said things, especially in anger, that we would gladly take back?  What if every word we uttered were recorded and played back for all to hear, how many of us would be far more careful about what we say and to whom?

Look, I think we all need a reality check.  We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we’d pass the standards set by society today to be incredibly politically correct.  I mean, for God’s sake, Paula Deen acknowledged that she uttered a racial slur in her distant past (she told the truth) and lost her empire.  I am not saying she was right to have made her racial comments (back then), rather I am saying that almost 100% of the people in the South her age have done the same thing.  So was she punished for telling the truth?  Isn’t it possible for people to change?

But back to Sterling – as bad as his comments were, they reflect comments that should have never have been recorded and, done so, made public.  What he thinks in his head is misguided, but not all that uncommon when you consider his age, gender and the times he was reared in.  Honestly could we really expect much different.  His past is not a shinning light to stellar racial acceptance.


So let me get this – private conversations recorded illegally are now fair game for distribution to media outlets?  Media outlets have no consequence for the public distribution of illegally recorded conversations?  Yes, Sterling is a jerk (my opinion), but does he deserve his property be taken away just because his “girlfriend” had an axe to grind?

Where have we come in this country that our private expressions should become the public fodder for outcomes that are unwelcome and unexpected?  Is we were all placed under the same scrutiny that Donald Sterling recently faced would we be any better off?

To me there is an ethical question related to privacy vs public condemnation for choices where there was no intention for public distribution.  But then again there is an old Elvis Presley song – RUN ON that says:

You may throw your rock and hide your hand
Working in the dark against your fellow man
As sure as God made the day and the night
What you do in the dark will be brought to the light
You may run and hide, slip and slide
Trying to take the mote from your neighbour’s eyes
As sure as God made the rich and poor
You gonna reap just what you saw

Guess the reaping time has come for Donald Sterling!


Ms. Stiviano had recently been sued by the estranged wife of Mr. Sterling, so there is some potential nefarious motive involved. Furthermore, the taping of a conversation without consent of the other party is illegal under California statute. There is some question as to whether he knew he was being recorded. Let’s assume for the moment he didn’t.

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