Clippers’ Donald Sterling and Crisis Management for Racism Scandal

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    Incredibly racist recording creates mid-playoff crisis

    In the midst of their 2014 NBA playoff run, the Los Angeles Clippers are mired in a massive crisis. An audio recording of a man alleged to be Clippers owner Donald Sterling in an intensely racist 9 1/2 minute conversation was published by TMZ Friday, and the basketball world has been on fire discussing the controversy since.

    Here is just a sampling of the disturbing comments made by the man alleged to be Sterling, reportedly speaking to his girlfriend regarding her sharing photos on Instagram posing with Magic Johnson:

    — “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”

    — “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”

    — “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.”

    — “…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

    The Clippers have responded with the following statement:

    “We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or [if] it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would “get even.” Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them. He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin [Magic] Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him — both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter.”

    If you were left feeling less than convinced, we’re right there with you. First sign that the organization is grasping at straws is the line, “We do not know if it is legitimate or [if] it has been altered”. Well, SOMEONE does, namely Sterling himself. Their second mistake was attempting to discredit the source of the recording. It really doesn’t matter what the tipster’s motivation was, what matters is what we all heard.

    Further weakening Sterling’s case is the fact that he has a long history of racist behavior, including being reported by many past players and colleagues for using racist language and being forced to pay some $2.72 million to settle allegations that he discriminated against African Americans, Hispanics, and families with children at apartment buildings he owns in and around Los Angeles.

    It remains to be proven whether it was indeed Sterling’s voice on the recording, but already major figures in the NBA and sports pundits everywhere are quite understandably screaming for Sterling to be punished, if not removed from the league altogether. In a press conference Friday night league Commissioner Adam Silver stated that, although he wishes to give Sterling due process, the NBA will rush to reach a conclusion in the matter.

    We’ll be watching closely to see how the league, and in turn the Clippers as an organization, react.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]