Apology Ethics 2: Is This A Legitimate Excuse? Does It Matter?

Skydiving

Tom Angel was chief of staff for the Los Angeles County sheriff until emails he had sent to friends four years ago, prior to becoming the sheriff’s top aide, denigrating several different groups of minorities including Muslims, Catholics and Latinos surfaced in the media. Now Angel  has resigned.

His boss, Sheriff Jim McDonnell,  announced the departure  in a statement posted to Facebook that called the messages “inappropriate and unprofessional.”  That was fair.

Originally, the department defended Angel, saying in part,

“Although his judgment in this situation is of concern to members of the Sheriff’s Department, no one is more distressed about it than Chief Angel himself.  His apologies for this uncharacteristic act have been profuse and sincere. Chief Angel’s decision-making and actions in his long prior career with the Sheriff’s Department and since his return in 2015 reveal more about his actual character and typical good judgment than the instances from four years prior currently reported in the media.”

It didn’t work, especially after Angel’s apology, quoted in the LA Times, was this:

“Anybody in the workplace unfortunately forwards emails from time to time that they probably shouldn’t have forwarded. I apologize if I offended anybody, but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.”

Should that have been sufficient? Continue reading

Donald Sterling’s Beard

So THAT'S what was going on!

So THAT’S what was going on!

If the law suit just filed by Donald Sterling’s traitorous bimbo V. Stiviano is based on fact, the world of sports, media and political correctness may be getting a much deserved comeuppance. I really, really hope this comes to pass. Maybe everyone will learn something about not stealing private words and thoughts, and using them to wreck lives and reputations.

But probably not.

It was V.who famously taped the then owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, in his own bedroom earlier this year, making his remarks about not wanting his mixed-race girlfriend to bring blacks to his team’s games. Those comments were leaked, and launched an orgy of political correctness, as the NBA, its players and every pundit who could get to a camera, microphone or keyboard into rants about how disgusting and vile Donald Sterling was. The NBA fined him two million dollars and took his team away, while he was branded as the face of Ugly American Racism 2014, at least until Darren Wilson became an “executioner.” Based on what Stiviano’s lawsuit states, however, in support of her claiming defamation at the hands of Sterling’s estranged wife, what Sterling said on the tape might not  mean what everyone assumed it did, and perhaps wasn’t racist at all. Continue reading

A Culture Lost And Confused: “The Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck” Is Now The U.S. Cultural Values And Priorities Ethics Train Wreck…Good Job, Everybody!

Lost2

Let’s see if I understand:

NBA owner Mark Cuban wasn’t making a racist statement when he publicly said that he is prejudiced in matters concerning blacks and race. That’s interesting, because the common description of one who is bigoted regarding race is “racist.” Even if  he was racist, it doesn’t justify his being fined millions, banned and losing his team, because he made the statement publicly, which is brave, rather than making his racist statements in the privacy of his own bed room, where Donald Sterling foolishly thought, as an American, that what he did was nobody’s business, as the gay members of the mob who want him ejected from his business always tell us.

Wait, that can’t be right. Let me start again. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: NBA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (And Yes, I Mean It)

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

The other shoe dropped, and however it may be intended, it’s an ethical shoe. Donald Sterling now says that he’ll refuse to pay the 2.5 million dollar fine levied on him by NBA Commissioner Silver and his fellow owners for what he said in his own bedroom.

Good. I was waiting for this, and hoping that would be his course of action. Ironically, a good, compliant, progressive billionaire, and one who was not, unlike Sterling, a repulsive asshole, who was nationally embarrassed as Sterling has been, would crawl quietly into a hole, periodically send out big checks and mea culpas to Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP, and in the process, take  big, bloody chunks out of our freedom to think and speak freely, and our personal privacy. Sterling is doing the right thing, although it is going to cause him to be even more vilified by the media and even more assailed as the personification of racism than he has been already—and that has already been disproportionate to his “crime.”

Fighting is also going to be expensive. Never mind. It is revolting to write it, or even think it, but he is fighting for all of us. Continue reading

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

stop-sign2

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?

Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it. So, if we’re all going to be outraged…Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.”‘

—Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in an essay pointing out some of  hypocrisies and excesses in the reactions to the Donald Sterling saga.

"Gotcha! He's screwed now...but he's a racist scumbag, so it's perfectly OK."

“Gotcha! He’s screwed now…but he’s a racist scumbag, so it’s perfectly OK.”

Good for Kareem. I was just about to make this point myself, and preparing to be pilloried for making excuses for a racist. Kareem is a lot bigger than I am, and I’m happy to stand behind him.

I watched two African-American lawyers on CNN today erupt in over-the-top outrage that has become the norm in the “finger-wagging Olympics” that Abdul-Jabbar decries in the rest of his article. One of the lawyers called Sterling’s remarks defamatory—“defamatory?” Sterling didn’t say a word that was negative about blacks; he just said he didn’t want his girl friend taking photos with them. His comments constitute smoking gun proof of racial bias, sure, but they aren’t “defamatory.” The other lawyer called them “the most vile, disgusting...” on and on and on, comments that he had ever heard.  Really? I doubt that. You know, once you award the prize to Sterling’s racist comments, you have no more superlatives left  for really horrible racist remarks. The two sportswriters, Christine Brennan and Bill Rhoden, who preceded my commentary on NPR today, did the same thing. It was a contest over who could express the most outrage.

It is a small surprise, then, in this hyper-charged atmosphere, that the conduct of V. Stiviano is getting an ethics pass, as if betrayal doesn’t matter as long as the betrayed party is despicable, and what she did was justified because she exposed a racist to the world. It’s not justified. The ends don’t justify the means, when the means are betrayal and mean-spirited vengeance, and when the methods used threaten to become a social norm, turning American homes and bedrooms into Stalinesque trap where no secret is safe. We’ve seen this practice before and I’ve condemned it before: the Harvard Law student turned into a campus pariah by a jealous rival circulating a private e-mail to the people most likely to be offended by it; Alec Baldwin’s daughter releasing private communications with her intemperate father to harm his reputation; Mel Gibson’s girlfriend doing the same; e-mail jokes being intercepted and sent to political enemies as a tool of personal destruction; clumsy suitors having their fumbles turned into national ridicule by the objects of their affection. Continue reading

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

Strict Liability For Biases and the Racist NBA Team Owner Principle

Keep the lock secure, and all the bad stuff inside might not matter...

Keep the lock secure, and all the bad stuff inside might not matter…

I had an unusual  roommate in law school, a former Marine, smart, handsome and charismatic. Let’s call him “Carl.”

He was also a racist, and unapologetic about it. He was an anti-Semite too. After Carl died at the age of 27 in a freak accident, his funeral was attended by several Jewish and African-American law students who considered my roommate a good friend. They had no idea that he was prejudiced, because my friend treated everyone with fairness and respect, at least in my experience. I would ask Carl about this, and he would express surprise that I would be confused at his behavior. “I would never treat anyone with disrespect, no matter who he or she was, or unfairly either,” he said. “That would be wrong, and not Christian.” (He was a Roman Catholic.) Carl also gave annual contributions to the United Negro College Fund, and he was far from wealthy.

That was my introduction to the truth, and it is a comforting one, that biases can be overcome if someone has the character and the strength to recognize them as biases. Racism is just a bias, you know; a particularly harmful and strong one, but still a bias. Having a bias, even a strong one, is not unethical, just as thoughts themselves, without more, are not unethical. A bias is an ethics impediment, a condition that makes being ethical more difficult, and for many of us, impossible. My friend was one of the most honorable and ethical people in his conduct that I ever knew. He had a bias, knew that to be an ethical human being he had to overcome it daily, and did.

If, however, his black and Jewish friends had learned about his private arguments with me, they would have been hurt, and could not have remained friends with him. It would simply be a matter of trust….although, in fact, Carl was completely worthy of trust no matter what race or creed you were. But it is impossible, I think to continue to trust anyone once you know that he is prejudiced against your race.

This brings us to the ugly tale of Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. His girlfriend, who is black, recorded an argument between the two of them in which he reprimanded her for posting photographs of African-American companions. Continue reading