The Donald Sterling Mess: Watching An Ethics Train Wreck Develop Before Our Eyes

Circus Train wreck

I realized that the Donald Sterling controversy was going to be a full-blown ethics train wreck when, as I should have predicted but didn’t, President Obama once again tossed his office, authority and power into a completely non-governmental matter that his involvement could only confound, and can’t possibly help. “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk,” the President responded during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur,  after being asked about Sterling’s alleged remarks. At least he didn’t say that V. Stiviano, the NBA owner’s mistress who recorded the comments, could have been his daughter.

This continues a pattern, exemplified by the President’s gratuitous statements as the Trayvon Martin case was unfolding, of Obama being willfully ignorant of the injustice done when the President of the United States uses his bullhorn to warp independent investigations before they are complete, and attempts to sway public opinion in matters outside his proper duties. The NBA is currently examining the circumstances of Sterling’s statements, and Obama’s irresponsible interjections can do nothing but upset the process. He simply cannot or will not restrain himself. My view: this stuff is easy, an approximation of being Presidential for a leader who is foundering in dealing with the important, legitimate challenges of his job. It is an expression of weakness.

Meanwhile, it is increasingly likely that, in classic ethics train wreck fashion, everyone connected to and responding to this episode is or will be tainted. Sterling’s girlfriend, for example, broke the law: California is a state like Maryland ( Hello, Linda Tripp, wherever you are!) and others, where it is illegal to record anyone without their consent. Her motives were also despicable: reputedly she had vowed vengeance because Sterling’s wife (oh, yes, her sugar-daddy is still married) has sued her for embezzlement. His wife calls her a gold-digger; perhaps that is unfair, and perhaps she really loves the 80-year-old evident racist for the purity of his soul and vitality in the sack rather than his bank account, just as I may be secretly a bighorn sheep. But the incident roiling the worlds of sports and culture is clearly the product of domestic warfare and at least two thoroughly awful people. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Sportswriter Jason Reid

I really don’t care how bad you feel, Jason.

In designating national sportswriter Jason Reid an Ethics Dunce because of his sensitive, thoughtful, brave but ultimately unethical column this morning, I don’t intend to suggest that his ethical failing is unusual, or noteworthy for any reason other than the fact that it is universal.

Sometimes we are all like Jason Reid, I think. We all engage in conduct that we suspect is wrong, but we enjoy it. Gradually, truth breaks through our denial and we cannot avoid the conclusion that the conduct is wrong; still, despite the fact that we do not believe human beings should willfully do wrong, we persist in the conduct.

Because we enjoy it.

Reid’s column is titled “Seay’s Death Forces Uncomfortable Questions For Football Fans,” referring to the recent suicide death of former NFL star Junior Seau, the second suicide of a former pro football star in recent weeks. The uncomfortable question is the same one I raised on Ethics Alarms in November of 2009, which tells you how many NFL fans read ethics blogs. I wrote then,

“Simply put, it is wrong to pay money to persuade people to permanently damage themselves for our entertainment. No fight fan can watch Muhammad Ali today, recalling his nimble wit and amusing patter, and not feel complicity in his current near-mute condition, the result of being induced to box after his skills were eroded by time. When we know, and players know, that playing football in the NFL is going to lead to premature dementia for a significant number of players who will accept the risk if the money is right, can we ethically continue to provide that money?”

Sportswriters don’t read ethics blogs either, so in May of 2012, Reid has decided that this and related questions need asking. So he writes.. Continue reading