Sterling and Sam: Say the Right Thing

By Hunter Ford

Two current sports-related news stories have been provoking strong emotions from the people following them.

First, the Donald Sterling situation:  Initially, it seemed unfair for Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, to be so severely punished for a private conversation he had with his girlfriend.

Based on what I heard from that conversation, Sterling deserved a public reprimand, but he did not deserve to have ownership of the team taken from him.  There are many important issues in play here.  Is it fair to have a billion-dollar property (the team) taken away from a man because of a private conversation in which he said some unfortunate things?

Sterling didn’t use any slurs, only common terms.  The sentiments he expressed were clearly offensive, but, the whole sordid situation (an 80-year-old married man involved with a much younger woman) was disgusting.  To what extent should his private life have any bearing on his ownership of the team?  What happened next sealed his fate.

Sterling could have weathered this storm had he handled the fall-out differently.  Instead he goes on TV with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and digs a hole all the way to China.

Sterling’s private conversation had been partly inspired by Instagram pictures his girlfriend posted showing her with former NBA star Magic Johnson.   In his interview with Cooper, Sterling lashed out at Johnson.  Sterling said Johnson should be “ashamed” of himself for having AIDs (Johnson is HIV positive but does not have AIDS) and that Johnson should go “into the background.”  Sterling also asked rhetorically, “What has Magic Johnson ever done to give back to the community?”

Johnson actually has a great reputation as a businessman who invests in minority communities.  Johnson has handled the situation the way he used to handle behind-the-back passes on the court.  Sterling has given Johnson a major assist and Magic is taking it to the hoop for a slam dunk.  Magic Johnson is a  front-runner to be the next owner of the Clippers.

Then there is Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL.  After being drafted by the St. Louis Rams, Sam was shown on ESPN kissing his boyfriend.  A Miami Dolphins defensive back, who Tweeted a disapproving remark, has been fined and is undergoing sensitivity training.

Sam is being touted by USA Today as “The most important player in the NFL.”

Homosexuals certainly should be afforded the same opportunities as the rest of the population in regard to work, housing, and freedom from discrimination in general.  The flip side of that coin is there are some people who have deep religious convictions that homosexuality is a sin.  Should those people have to be silent about their convictions?

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from these two stories.  Right, or wrong, one of those lessons is:  When confronted with sensitive subjects, make sure to say the right thing.  By the way, Alabama football coach Nick Saban was recently asked how he would approach having a gay athlete on his team.  Here is Saban’s response.  I believe he did a good job.

“I would expect everybody to be respectful of what is private for most people and treat that person with dignity and respect them for being a good teammate and being part of our team and doing the things that require them to be a good person on our team.  I can’t speak for everybody, but that’s what would be my expectation for the people we control in our organization and on our team.”