Big Weekend In Sports: Sterling Apologizes, NFL Drafts First Openly Gay Player

May 12, 2014

L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling apologized over the weekend in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. It’s the first time Sterling has spoken publicly since a recording of him making racist comments was leaked more than two weeks ago.

And in other big sports news, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL.

Here & Now sports analyst Mike Pesca joins Jeremy Hobson to talk about the significance of these events in the world of sports.


Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



And it was a big weekend in the wide world of sports. L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling apologized for those racist comments he made that were caught on tape and got him banned from the NBA. In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Sterling spoke publicly for the first time since the scandal began more than two weeks ago.


DONALD STERLING: I'm a good member who made a mistake, and I'm apologizing, you know, and I'm asking for forgiveness. Am I entitled to one mistake after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partner. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake, and I'll never do it again.

HOBSON: Sterling also said he was baited into making those comments. Joining us now to talk about that and the other big story of the weekend, the first openly gay football player ever drafted to an NFL team is Mike Pesca, HERE AND NOW sports analyst who also hosts the podcast The Gist at Slate.com. Hi, Mike.


HOBSON: Well, what do you make of Sterling's apology and what's the reaction been?

PESCA: You know, I'll start with the reaction. I think people just saw it as mostly pathetic and they're not buying his apology, and they're saying that, oh, actually it was more than one mistake.

Now perhaps this is the NBA getting hoisted by its own petard, because when they announced they were going to ban Donald Sterling for life, they made no reference of his previous racists actions and his history of housing discrimination, which he, you know, paid fines for, at least settled fines for. And that was well-documented.

I guess the NBA thought they had enough with the tape, and maybe they do. And there was a groundswell to get rid of him just based on the statements made on this tape. So if Sterling is trying to frame it as this is the only bad thing I ever have done, that doesn't comport with the facts but it does kind of - it doesn't contradict why the NBA said they were ousting him, and they've never cited anything about those housing discrimination suits.

HOBSON: Why did it take him so long though? What did he say about that of why it's taken him a couple of weeks now to respond?

PESCA: Yeah, he said he was blindsided and does say, as you mentioned, that, you know, this was a leak and that he didn't - that it was all said without his permission. But it just seems like this is a person who has never really been at the forefront of public relations.

His business, unlike a lot of other more media savvy younger owners, never really depended on getting out there. And in fact, as he was owning the team, he had this habit of a little bit burrowing underground because his way of running an NBA team was to let's own it, let's reap the profits, and let's not necessarily pour money into the organization.

So, you know, he has shown to be, I guess, an 80-, 81-year-old man who doesn't have his finger on the pulse of social media or anything like TMZ. Then again, he did make those statements. He didn't say he didn't make those statements. And it's the statements alone that are keeping the NBA on message saying that, no, this guy has got to go.

HOBSON: You know, you used the term burrowing underground. Another way of putting what he just did was he kept digging. And let me show you an example of what I mean. In that recording that started all of this, Sterling had told the woman he was talking to, V. Stiviano, that he didn't want her posting pictures of herself with black people at his games. And he specifically mentioned Magic Johnson.

Well, in that CNN interview over the weekend, Sterling said he had spoken to Magic Johnson, and Anderson Cooper asked if he'd apologized, and here's what Sterling said.


STERLING: If I said anything wrong, I'm sorry. He's a good person and he - what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. But I'll say it, I'll say it, you know, he's great. But I just don't think he is a good example for the children of Los Angeles.


PESCA: Yeah.


PESCA: I mean that gives you an insight as to the type of person that Donald Sterling is. And, you know, his wife, Rochelle, Shelly Sterling, gave an interview with Barbara Walters where she said that she thinks that he has perhaps the onset of dementia. You know, no one's a doctor here, but I don't think there was anything that Sterling could have said that would have undone the damage.

That said, he didn't come close to undoing the damage. And the very day that those interviews aired, it was I think in statements made before the interviews aired, LeBron James, the most prominent basketball player on the planet, just said, he's got to go. He's got to get out. And I think the players are behind it. And the NBA thinks that it made a really popular decision.

Now, there's some legal question as to what that really means. Shelly Sterling says, well, you know, we live in California and the laws of this state say that I own half the team. The NBA counters with: That doesn't matter, all of our franchisees sign this agreement. There's one controlling owner. It is Donald Sterling. If the requisite number of our owners vote to oust him, then he will be ousted.

This could play out in court for maybe a little bit of time. In fact, it could play out in court for the rest of Donald Sterling's life. It was reported that he has cancer. So...

HOBSON: Right.

PESCA: You add all that up, this is not a situation that's easily resolved. And I don't think that those interviews do anything to get it closer to a resolution.

HOBSON: All right. Well, let's get to the other big story in the sports world over the weekend. And this one came in the seventh round of the NFL draft.


MIKE KENSIL: With the 249th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select Michael Sam, defensive end, Missouri. That's for you, Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And you can hear the cheers in the tape. What you can't hear is what we were seeing on the screen, which is Michael Sam, very emotional in his reaction, and then kissing his boyfriend multiple times. There's been positive reaction to that, Mike Pesca, there has been some negative reaction to that. Tell us more about how people are responding to a gay kiss seen on ESPN.

PESCA: Well, I think a lot of people are responding by saying people are happy and kiss their loved ones when their lifelong dreams come true. And let's not look into it anything other than that. Or if we do, let's look into as, you know, he's breaking new ground.

Now, the people who complained about it, it's not surprising what they're complaint would be, things like why are you showing me this? But, you know, the answer is just what I said in the beginning of this sentence, that he should be considered a guy who's happy to have made an NFL team, and a trailblazing guy at that.

HOBSON: Are you surprised that it took as long as it did for him to be selected, seventh round?

PESCA: That's a - yeah, that's a good question. OK, so there was a lot of people who are saying that, you know, it was only because people either were explicitly anti-homosexual or didn't want to take on - teams didn't want to take on the perception that this would cause so much media sturm und drang.

HOBSON: But I think that there is at least a decent point just based on NFL reasons why he wasn't selected. Even before most anyone knew that he was gay, before he came out, he was projected maybe to be a fifth round pick. Then he didn't do well at the combine, so if that kind of player drops to seven and we didn't know who he was, no one would say this is so odd that he's a seventh round pick. But he's going to be in the NFL probably.

HERE AND NOW sports analyst Mike Pesca, host of the podcast The Gist at Slate.com. Mike, thanks so much, as always.

PESCA: You're welcome.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.