We could see this coming. With so much attention given to Donald Sterling’s remarks, he was bound to get a severe rebuke from Commissioner Adam Silver. And so he Sterling receives a lifetime ban and a hefty $2.5 million fine. Silver hopes that pressure from other sources can be enough to push Sterling out of ownership of the Clippers. We’ll see, but I would expect this to take place. There will be significant pressure to carry this penalty through.
Watching this story develop, I began thinking more about how any one of us could say something offensive and hateful to or about another person. Granted and hopefully, not to the extent of the racist tones that Sterling offered, albeit in a private conversation it still has no place in the NBA for an owner. This is someone who is in a position of power to hire and fire people. However, the whole situation does make you wonder what the NCAAP was thinking to plan to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award next month. That’s another subject.
We need words to get along, communicate, express our feelings, and let others know what we are thinking. Sometimes we don’t think carefully prior to verbalizing those unedited thoughts, and when this occurs, the results can be costly.
It used to be that the only forms of communication were in person and by writing a letter and mailing it, a process which could take a long time. It also allowed you to write something down and throw it away prior to sending it in the mail. Nowadays, there is all sorts of social media and email which allows for instant and unedited reaction to whatever is bothering you. These verbal and electronic bombshells explode and leave a lot of collateral damage.I’ve been told and agree with the sentiment, that it’s better to write out an email of criticism without putting the name in the address bar, to prevent from sending it out prematurely.
These issues of the tongue have been around for a long time, and there have been cautions given to those who wish to be teachers or in positions of authority. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. . . The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3.1,5 NIV).
What (and who) inspires me is a person who is able to “hold his tongue” when being berated unfairly by others. When Jesus was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge–to the great amazement of the governor (Matthew 27.12-14 NIV).
I’m always looking for applications, and the incident with Sterling offers several. His remarks were recorded and played for the whole world to hear, and it cost him dearly. He didn’t know that what he was saying would beyond his intended audience. One of the enduring lessons from this story is that each one of us has said things that we regret. We have the freedom to say whatever is on our minds and whatever we believe to be true, but this does not grant us the freedom from the consequences of those opinions. Sometimes this means that our beliefs clash with culture and we expose ourselves to criticism and ridicule. Other times it means that our spiteful and cute remarks go beyond their intended and desired audience to a wider circle of listeners.
A rule of thumb is to assume that whatever you say is going to be repeated at least once, and you need to be able to feel good about those comments if they should get back to you. This is a goal rather than a reality in some cases, but being mindful of one’s words might diffuse some difficult situations before they get out of hand.
The other application is that I don’t have to always respond to an accusation simply because it is there. The reaction to the criticism can be heard more loudly than the complaint itself. Silence can be a powerful tool when facing unfair criticism. It doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t anything to say, but it can result in the verbal barbs of the accuser hanging the air a bit longer on their own merits. I marvel at how Jesus was able to do that.
Sterling isn’t the first and won’t be the last to have his private comments made public. Let’s be cautious in what we say, and more importantly let’s learn how to be kind and gracious to people regardless of who they are or what they look like. Even if Sterling had never said them, his views on this subject are disturbing and deserve to be condemned.