Ethics Quiz: If There Is Going To Be A Racial Double Standard For Bigoted Statements, Can We Please At Least Know What It Is?

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Item: Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the NBA Clippers, while speaking with his mistress/girl friend/ escort in the bedroom, announces that he doesn’t want her bringing black men to Clippers games. In the process, he does not say anything specifically derogatory about African- Americans. He believes the statement is private, and that he is talking to someone he could trust.He was wrong. A recording of the conversation was leaked to the press, and Sterling has been roundly vilified as a vile racist, threatened with a boycott by the players, mostly African-American, in the NBA, fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from the game.

Item: Via Mike Wise, Washington Post sports writer—

“Following Wednesday’s Pacers-Wizards game in Indianapolis, during the time when NBA rules permit media members to be present, the music blaring in the Indiana locker room was filled with vile language: racist, homophobic and misogynist. Afterward, I complained on Twitter that if Commissioner Adam Silver truly wants an inclusive league, he ought to address this (common) practice.”

Result: Wise, who is white, was attacked as a racist. What NBA players listen to in the locker room is none of his business, he is told (but what Donal Sterling says in his bed room is their business.) The NBA has done, and is expected to do, nothing.

Item: Appearing on ESPN where he is a commentator, Charles Barkley, former NBA star (and an African-American), decided to deride the women of San Antonio, Texas as fat. “There’s some big ‘ol women down there,” said Barkley. “That’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers.” He added, “Victoria is definitely a secret. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there.” A spokesperson for a fat acceptance group protested:

“Making slurs about body size is just as offensive as making comments about body color. One would think being a black man, he’d be more sensitive to having his physical body criticized. It’s totally out of line. He should absolutely apologize.”

Barkley not only refused to apologize, but defiantly challenged anyone objecting to his remarks, jokes or future comments to “change the channel.”  Nobody expects Barkley to suffer any consequences from this series of events.

Item: In 2007, talk show provocateur Don Imus got into a facetious discussion with a broadcast team member about how te women’s basket ball team from Rutgers was “rough looking” and had some “nappy-looking ho’s.” He also referenced Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” and the film’s “Jigaboos vs.  Wannabes.” Imus apologized profusely, pronouncing the exchange inappropriate, thoughtless and stupid. Under pressure from various civil rights groups,  WFAN, which produced his show, fired Imus, who has never regained his previous prominence.

Item: In 2013, media professional Justine Sacco tweeted a race-based joke before boarding a plane to Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” A furious cyber mob condemned her as a racist, and demanded her punishment. When she landed in Africa, she learned that she had  been fired.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is…

What the hell is going on here?

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Ethics Dunce: Van Jones

Slavery, 2014 style.

Slavery, 2014 style.

On this Sunday’s edition of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulis, the weekly gorge-rising moment occurred when former White House “czar” and alleged truther turned pundit Van Jones weighed in on the Donald Sterling saga, noting that in the NBA owner’s taped remarks he arrogantly alluded to the fact that his highly paid NBA players are dependent on him for their livelihood. To plenty of nods and amens around the table (the Sunday talk shows no longer even attempt to attempt partisan or ideological balance), Jones said that this “sounded more like 1814 than 2014.”

I will observe again, though no one in the panel was fair enough to because Sterling is disgusting and doesn’t deserve journalistic fairness, that these comments were spontaneous and off-the-cuff, and not designed to withstand the scrutiny of critical parsing and hostile analysis, as few private conversations are. But that is a secondary point.

The main point is that nobody in the ABC roundtable, including moderator Stephanopoulis, was impertinent, brave, professional or competent enough to note that last week, rancher Cliven Bundy was crucified for making an ignorant statement that minimized the horrors of slavery, and that Jones’s idiotic comparison was as bad or worse. Continue reading

The Sterling Backlash: Signature Significance, Racism, Hypocrisy, and Double Standards

Bennie Thompson

“No big deal, he’s  just a Congressman…”

I often use the term “signature significance” in posts, and since it is a term that is not often applied to ethics, I thought today would be a perfect time to illustrate it in its original context, while clarifying the ethical murk around the Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck.

The original context of the phenomenon of signature significance is baseball, and I just watched an example of it. Today Red Sox left-hander John Lester beat the Oakland A’s, a very good team, by hurling eight innings in which he gave up no runs, only one hit, two bases on balls, while striking out 15 batters. If you don’t know anything about the game, let me tell you: this is extraordinarily good. Pitching performances can be measured and compared by using the “game score” method, developed by sabermetrics (that is, baseball statistics) pioneer Bill James. The best game score ever achieved was 105; the highest score in major league history for a pitcher who did not pitch all nine innings (as with Lester today) is 95, and has only been done once. (Theoretically, a game score could be as high as 145)

James also devised the term “signature significance” in the context of such games. His research showed that pitchers who were not outstanding talents never pitched a game with such a high game score even once—it simply didn’t happen. Thus, he reasoned, pitching a single game like Lester’s (the actual game he used was a similar performance by a young Roger Clemens before anyone knew what Clemens would become) was sufficient proof, all by itself, to conclude fairly and scientifically that the game was meaningful, without any other data. In cases of signature significance, he explained, the usual statistical rule that small sample sizes are not reliable indicators do not apply. Sometimes one incident, performance or episode is sufficient to make a confident verdict.

Signature significance is very useful, I have found, to rebut unethical rationalizations for unethical conduct that are used to excuse the agent of the ethical breach. “It’s only one mistake” and “Anyone can make a mistake” are the main ones. In the case of some serious kinds of bad conduct, this reasoning is misleading and false. Donald Sterling’s comments recorded and publicized by his whatever-you-call-her V. Stiviano have signature significance: they prove he’s a racist. Can you imagine any non-racist individual saying, in public or private, that he didn’t want his girlfriend being seen at his team’s games in the company of blacks?  How could this possibly occur? It wouldn’t, of course. Only those who hold racist attitudes and beliefs think and say such things. Sterling is a racist.

Stiviano, for her part, despite being the one who brought the media, the sports world and the public down on Sterling’s 80-year-old head, now says she doesn’t believe he’s a racist. Of course, she also says she’s his “silly rabbit” and that she is going to be President some day. She is an idiot. But I digress.

Other figures have made statements in the media that also have signature significance of the same sort as Sterling’s, yet the very same groups and journalists who have been whipped into a self-righteous froth over Sterling are strangely silent: Continue reading