Jed Diamond, PhD wonders if the world would be better if, instead of just punishing racists, we tried to rehabilitate them?
Most everyone has read the headlines:
- NBA investigating Clippers owner Donald Sterling for alleged racist comments
- NBA players protest racist talk attributed to L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling
- Players want Donald Sterling ejected from the NBA family
- NBA commissioner bans Clippers owner Sterling, pushes to “force a sale” of team
The controversy began when TMZ published the audio from a nine-minute phone call between L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his then-mistress V. Stiviano. Deadspin later acquired an extended 15-minute version of their conversation, in which Sterling told Stiviano she should not bring black people to Clippers games.
“I don’t understand, I don’t see your views,” Stiviana, who is African American, is heard saying. “I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.”
“Well, then, if you don’t feel—don’t come to my games,” Sterling replied. “Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.”
Since the racism remarks and sentiments behind them were made public there has been a tremendous outpouring of protests and calls for punishment. On April 29, 2014 Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, came down hard on Sterling, ordering him out of all his team’s activities and pushing to force him to sell the team over racist remarks that caused a firestorm since becoming public days ago. Adam Silver also detailed Sterling’s punishment of a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine — the “maximum amount” allowed per league guidelines.
Silver’s decision was met with immediate support from NBA owners, players and others connected to the league who have been calling for swift, firm punishment ever since TMZ posted audio featuring the incendiary comments. But is punishment the best solution? Sterling can be removed and forced to sell the Clippers, but will that get at the deeper problems of racism in our society? Will punishment provide the greatest good?
What hasn’t been talked about is restorative justice. We live in a society that often looks for a quick solution to deeply seated social problems. We want to find out who’s to blame and then punish them. End of story. But restorative justice takes a different approach. Restorative justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by hateful and hurtful acts. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational.
Evidently Sterling bought the L.A. Clippers basketball team for $15 million many years ago. It is reportedly worth $700 million to $1 billion. As basketball legend Charles Barkley remarked, making him turn over his $15 million investment and get back $1 billion isn’t much of a punishment.
What would happen instead of trying to find the worst punishment for Sterling, we took a restorative justice approach? Perhaps he would sit down with Coach Doc Rivers, his black and white players and let them tell him to his face what it feels like to work for a man who made the racist comments he made. Maybe he would tell them what was going on inside his mind that caused him to make the remarks.
Perhaps fans who pay to see professional basketball games could tell Sterling how they feel. Maybe he could listen to the millions of boys and girls, men and women, who can’t afford the price of admission to a game. Perhaps Sterling could talk about his life and why Larry King says that no one likes Sterling. “I don’t think he has one friend,” said King.
Maybe he could be drawn back into the community, rather than isolated and ostracized. Perhaps he could be engaged to spend some of the hundreds of millions of dollars healing racism in our country rather than perpetuating it.
Perhaps if he could be deeply heard and healed he might become a better husband, a better person, a better man. Maybe our world would be a better place to live if Donald Sterling could truly make amends.