To be quite honest, I’m a big believer in the concept of forgiveness. I think it’s critical to our sense of fulfillment as human beings that we take steps to forgive people for their various transgressions and to try to move forward without a sense of resentment toward them.
But it’s also important to be realistic about what forgiveness is – and what it isn’t. It means that we get to the point where we’re not overcome with bitterness when we merely hear the name of the person who has done wrong. By offering forgiveness, we can move forward, wishing that erring person well. It does not mean that things need to return to the state where they were before the transgression. In other words, I can forgive you for not repaying the $500 you borrowed and wish you prosperity. But you’ll never get a $500 loan from me again.
That brings us to Donald Sterling. Over the weekend, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers presented a nationally televised plea for forgiveness, telling the world that the racist remarks he uttered to his paramour were simply not a reflection of who he really is. Moreover, the millionaire team owner said, he was goaded into making those comments by a young trickster female friend eager to create havoc.
"I'm a good member who made a mistake, and I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness," Sterling told Anderson Cooper on CNN. "Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake, and I'll never do it again."
We can assume that, in his mind, the “one mistake” to which he refers doesn’t include the complaints of housing discrimination by African-Americans and Latinos who sought to live in apartments owned by Sterling. But let’s not quibble about that.
Frankly, it seems easy to forgive Sterling, to wish him peace, fulfillment and a decent life going forward. However, Sterling must nonetheless live with the consequences of his actions, or, in this case, his words, coerced or not. What that means is that, while being forgiven, he must still live with the penalties imposed upon him by the NBA for discussing his distaste for Black people, including Magic Johnson.
Forgiving Sterling has no impact on the fact that has been banned for life from the NBA, that he must pay a huge fine and that the league is seeking to ban him from ownership of the team. Furthermore, it does not spare him the widespread condemnation of a league he helped bruise.
Speaking of ownership of the Clippers, it seems that Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, not to be outdone in the television sweepstakes of battling spouses, has done her own interview, this one with Barbara Walters, where she makes clear she wants to take on full ownership of the team of which she currently serves as a partial owner.
She makes the case that she shares none of his racist views and that her soon-to-be ex-husband may well be suffering from dementia. She, too, is a candidate for forgiveness, chiefly for hanging around with this character for so long. But forgiving her doesn’t mean that the league should ignore the rules that, in seeking to end ownership of a team, state that the action includes all the owners, including unhappy cheated-upon spouses.
Indeed, he should be the recipient of forgiveness. And it is likely to come sooner when he and Mrs. Sterling are moved permanently from ownership of the Clippers.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: Pacific Coast News)