3 Workplace Lessons from the Disgrace of LA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling

Cliff Wildes NBA sponsor with Donald Sterling owner of LA Clippers (circa 1989)

Earlier today, the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, will be banned for life from the game.  He must also pay a $2.5 million fine for allegedly making racist remarks in a conversation with his girlfriend, Vivian Stiviano.

Issues like this get people talking about race and power and money and sex and basketball.

No one should be surprised that this story is dominating nearly every news channel, news feed, and social stream. But you might be surprised that a faith and work site like The High Calling has anything to say about it.

The easy response would be to simply judge Sterling. Brand him a racist, and celebrate his departure from the game. He becomes a kind of scapegoat when we adopt this position, albeit a thoroughly guilty scapegoat if the allegations are true. The things Sterling is accused of saying would expose him as a deep and disturbed racist. If we reduce him to a scapegoat, his actions and his public punishment allow us feel good about ourselves in contrast. We can all pat ourselves on the back that we are not as racist as Donald Sterling.

This would be right and true for most of us. But the story alleges Sterling to be more than just a racist. He is a racist boss. He is a racist owner—a word that feels especially wrong given his racist comments about providing for his players. He is a husband and a father.

So what does the story look like through the lens of faith and work? What workplace lessons can we learn from Donald Sterling, the owner of the LA Clippers?

1. Work With Character

The culture of a workplace reflects the character of its workers and vice versa. This means individuals become ambassadors between the culture of their work and the culture of their home. To put it another way, our problems follow us around wherever we go. If I am having problems at work, I will likely take those problems home. If I am having problems at home, I will likely bring those problems to work. Thankfully, the reverse of this is also true. If my work is uplifting and energizing, I will take that positive energy home. If my home life is stable and supportive, I will bring that stability and confidence to my work.

Dr. Denise Daniels of Seattle Pacific University has explained something like this at Laity Lodge. She said, “Messed up people mess up their organizations; messed up organizations mess up their people. And healthy people contribute to positive organizational cultures; healthy organizations contribute to healthy individuals.” If the allegations are true, Sterling is a messed up person potentially messing up an entire organization.

Kevin Johnson, chairman of the National Basketball Players Association, said recently about the incident, “When a hint of cancer is shown, you have to cut it out immediately.” Based on Johnson’s analogy, Sterling’s alleged bigotry would have a ripple effect on the entire NBA. As a person gains influence in the workplace or an organization like the NBA, that person’s character has an even stronger potential impact on the culture. One bigoted leader may not create a legion of copycat bigots, but a hateful and arrogant leader may foster a culture that makes excuses for hateful and arrogant behavior.

2. Live With Integrity

Whether you value privacy or not, technology is slowing chipping away at it. We don’t have to worry about the rise of George Orwell’s Big Brother because little brother is happily sharing pictures and quotes and videos with the latest social sharing tools. In a sense, we all carry the coolest spy gadgets in our shirt pockets—a smart phone with audio and video recording features, sharing features, and research tools.

How does this relate? Sterling allegedly made his racist remarks in a private conversation that was recorded and shared with a wider audience than he intended. This does not let him off the hook, but it is a reminder to all of us that we cannot live fragmented lives. We all live and work in glass houses. Anything we say or do is easily captured by our neighbor’s smartphone.

So let us live and work with the utmost integrity.

3. Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

In fact, we can push further than integrity. Yes, be who you say you are. Yes, let your belief system dictate your actions. But Christians should do more than that. Because we believe God loves the world, we should love the world, starting with our neighbors.

When we are angry, we must be careful not to say ugly things. When we look at other people, we must be careful to view them as children of God. Hateful words flow out of a hateful heart. If we hope to use words to encourage others and lift them up, we can only do so through the grace of God in us.

The allegations against Sterling prove one thing without doubt: people care what other people believe. No matter how wonderful our performance or productivity, the world cares if our belief system is hateful.

Thank God, he doesn’t call us to be people of hate, but people of love! In our work, in our homes, in our communities, in our private conversations and our Instagram photos, let us be people of character, integrity, and love.

God cares about our work as much as he cares about how we accomplish that work. And guess what, so does the world.

By Cliffwildes (NBA event) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

About Marcus Goodyear

Marcus Goodyear is Editor of The High Calling and Director of Digital Media for the H. E. Butt Foundation.

  • pastordt

    Thank you for this, Marcus. A breath of sanity in the midst of a lot of crazy-making stuff.

    • http://thehighcalling.org/ Marcus Goodyear

      I appreciate you dropping in Pastor D. It’s good to see you here.

  • B-Lar

    “…people care what other people believe.”

    Given the fact that a lot of the time “sincerely held belief” is given as a justified reason to discriminate against or interfere with the lives of others, it seems odd that this would be presented as new information.

    It would be great if beliefs could be maintained in a vacuum, but the nature of belief is that it demands to be expressed by action.

    • http://thehighcalling.org/ Marcus Goodyear

      B-Lar, good point. It isn’t new information, so much as information that we sometimes seem to forget. In any society, in any situation, our believes do matter because, as you said, they imply a set of actions that should necessarily follow.

      Now if we could all just figure out to live with integrity so that our believes and our actions aligned…

      • B-Lar

        Indeed, but even sincerely held beliefs expressed correctly can still be flawed… if not enough work was done by the believer to be sure that the original belief is correct.

        A faulty premise guarantees a faulty outcome even if the logic is flawless. We should make sure that our beliefs have sound basis before we act on them.

  • bill wald

    1. Have your workplace regularly de-bugged.
    2. Have your home regularly de-bugged.
    3. Be very careful in your favorite public places.

    • breid1903

      do not say or believe stuff that you are ashamed of. repeat that a few times it will come to you. make mom proud.

      peaceup raz

  • gle1244

    Good advise to maintain. With that I would like to add that, although Sterling is a man of poor character and shouldn’t be in the place he’s in (after all, he’s married), and although he may be personally racist on some levels (which is also a product of low character), it is the media that has blown this up as a topic that sells. After all, having been in the business for years, the driving force behind the media is $$. Plus, in my opinion, that’s the tack they took because it sells, the real motive behind Sterling’s words were not racism, but the outburst of a jealous old man. Come on, folks. His ex girlfriend isn’t white. 90% of the players on his team are not white. He was pissed off because she was flaunting herself and her “friends” in front of her ex boyfriend to stir up his inner jealous instincts. He (as racist as it sounds) was more likely saying, “Do what you want, but don’t flaunt it in my face.” Point: We need to learn the lesson to not believe everything we see and hear as fact. The motives of the press on not based on good education of the public. There’s more than meets the eye. As Paul Harvey used to say, “and now the rest of the story.”