April 25 marked a life-changing day for Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, when he was recorded making less than flattering racial remarks to his girlfriend. People across the globe are shocked and up in arms regarding Sterling’s inappropriate comments. From President Obama to Michael Jordan, celebrities have spoken to their disproval and many have called for game boycotts and his resignation.
This public relations nightmare has caused many brands – including Redbull, CarMax, Virgin America and Kia – to terminate their relationship with the Clippers. The national publicity put pressure on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, which he responded with a lifetime ban from the league as well as a $2.5 million fine.
Not Sterling’s first foul
In 2002 there was not much uproar following Sterling’s sworn testimony, “African Americans ‘smell and aren’t clean'” In 2006 Sterling was sued by the Justice Department for housing discrimination; he would not rent apartments to Hispanics or African Americans in the Los Angeles area. Now, in 2014 Sterling’s behavior is centered in the public’s interest.
Why publicity now?
Many people are wondering why Sterling’s racism is now being publicly highlighted and criticized if this has been going on for years. While there are many arguable reasons for Sterling’s current limelight, I think an interesting angle to dissect is america’s fixation on sports.
- A 2010 ESPN poll found that half of American adults have placed a bet on sports in the past year.
- Of the 45 most-watched network TV broadcasts of all time, 21 are Super Bowls.
- 53.2 percent of NBA fans watch five or more hours of basketball per week
I think that America’ s fixation on professional sports amplified the coverage of this racial remark. The heavy following of the industry and professionals (i.e Earvin “Magic” Johnson) heightened the media attention and ultimately grew this PR crisis to the gargantuan monster it is now.
Finally, in the wise words of Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5W Public Relations, “No public relations campaign can help the Clippers franchise and the NBA out of this incident — other than removing Donald Sterling from the league. This man’s racist rants cannot be helped by a press release or press conference. Even the best PR campaign cannot help Donald Sterling.”