Crisis Communication Advice for Clippers’ Owner

L.A. Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA by league commissioner Adam Silver. Sterling also got the maximum fine league rules allow — $2.5 million. Racist remarks by Sterling surfaced recently in a recording from a ex-girlfriend.

The NBA did what it had to do, act swiftly and harshly, getting a big push from the players. Players union VP Roger Mason, Jr. said, “players were ready to boycott the games” if the right action wasn’t taken.

Now what does Sterling do? He could make matters worse by fighting to keep ownership of the team. That won’t work. A 3/4ths vote by owners can remove an owner. Sterling won’t be hurt financially. He bought the team for less than $13 million in 1981. Its estimated value now is over half a billion dollars.

Sterling, at age 80, should do the following:

1– Acknowledge his racism and concede it is born out of ignorance from a different generation. It doesn’t excuse it, but it does offer some explanation.

2– Apologize. Many people are waiting to hear it. It is especially hard for a billionaire to apologize, so it will show at least some willingness to change. Of course, true contrition is needed.

3– Seek Counseling. Racism is a learned behavior and it can be unlearned.

4– Change Behavior. Actions always speak louder than words.

There is nothing irrevocable about what Sterling did. He didn’t kill anyone and racial equality, at its core, presents a very persuasive argument for new thinking.

The episode may be a positive thing for Sterling. It has forced a choice on him — die a scorned and bitter old man or create a legacy of redemption that will endure long after any performance by his basketball team.

The ball’s in your court, Mr. Sterling.

The writer owns a communications company and often appears as a media analyst on crisis communication issues.