If you’ve been near a television, radio or basically any social media outlet over the last couple of days, you’ve heard about Donald Sterling and his less than appealing commentary. In short, Sterling made negative comments about his girlfriend being friends with “blacks” and said he did not want them at his games. Once the audio of his remarks were made public, Clippers players as well as the NBA were outraged. In response, the NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million dollars. Anyone else think Sterling is kicking himself right now?!
As PR people (note applicable to all human beings), this mess can serve as a teaching moment for several reasons. Numero uno: Nothing you say is private if your life is public, meaning if you live in the public eye, you are vulnerable to have whatever you say and do examined by the world. In Sterling’s case, the comments he made were said in private but clearly it didn’t make a difference. It’s important to make our clients aware of this and make sure they know what they can and cannot say in various situations.
Point number two: Trust no one. Now, this is a hard sell because you need people in your life to talk to. But for those in the public eye, it’s important for them to realize not everyone should know every detail of their lives. There are bad people out there who just want to get close to someone for the story or the almighty dollar. Public figures and celebrities need to keep this in the back of their minds.
No one is denying that what Sterling said was completely wrong. He should be held accountable for his actions regardless of where or when he made these comments. One could argue, though, that more severe acts have been committed with minimal consequences. For example, Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles made racist comments at a concert. He was fined as a result of his actions but is still an active player within the NFL. I understand each sport’s leadership is different but Sterling’s lifetime ban versus Cooper’s fine makes me wonder. Other athletes, say Michael Vick for example, have gotten away with far worse too.
The bottom line is people, public figures or otherwise, need to be held accountable for their actions. PR people need to aid their clients in being responsible for their words and actions. Donald Sterling’s situation is unfortunate but can be used as a lesson for all of us.