A Culver City public relations specialist says the damage done by racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will likely not hurt the team in the long term.
Cynthia Gibson, the owner of CGK Communications in Corporate Pointe, also said the Culver City-based chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People acquitted itself by moving quickly to rescind an award that Sterling was set to receive this month.
Tape recordings of the embattled Clippers owner’s racist and disparaging remarks about African-Americans- and some of his players- made national headlines on April 26, triggering a media firestorm and an investigation by National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver banned Sterling for life from the NBA in a televised press conference on April 29, three days after the recording were made public. Silver announced that Sterling would also be fined $2.5 million. “As for Mr. Sterling’s ownership in the Clippers, I will urge the NBA’s Board of Governors [the 30 team owners] to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that this happens,” Silver told reporters.
“I think [Silver’s quick action] will help the team with its fan base,” said Gibson, who has worked in the public and private sector. “Saying nothing says something.”
Gibson said the Clippers, who will seek to close out its first-round series with the Golden State Warriors on May 1, might have to take a look at the rest of its management team, even though 80 year-old Sterling has been banned from any involvement in the Clippers’ financial, marketing or personnel decisions. “You wonder who [Sterling] might have brought into some of the high-level positions because he’s owned the team for such a long time,” she said. “There still might be some surgical cuts that the team has to make.”
Calls to the Culver City office of the NAACP were not returned at press time. But at a press conference at the Westfield Culver City Mall on April 28, Leon Jenkins, the president of the organization’s local chapter, appeared to defend the organization’s decision to honor Sterling with a lifetime achievement award.
“Mr. Sterling’s organization on a consistent basis has brought in numerous minorities and inner city kids to games,” Jenkins said. “Almost every game, there is a section where there are young people. He has also, in the years we looked at, contributed to a lot of minority charities, including the NAACP.”
The NAACP withdrew offering Sterling the award a day after his racist’s rant. Sterling was to be honored at a May 15 banquet.
The national NAACP joined other civil rights organizations in praising Silver’s actions in a joint statement, calling the lifetime ban “a bold, courageous and resolute message that the views expressed by Sterling do not represent the National Basketball Association as an organization today or the kind of organization that it seeks to be in the future.”
“Sterling’s long-established pattern of bigotry and racist comments has not been a secret in the NBA,” the statement said. “Yet until now, they have been tolerated and met with a gentle hand and a blind eye.”
Gibson does not think the 115 year-old civil rights organization’s Culver City chapter will suffer any lasting affects for what many critics think was a lapse in judgment considering Sterling’s inflammatory remarks and past behavior.
“I think they did the right thing be acting quickly and decisively,” she said.
In 2009, Sterling paid $2.7 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by African-American and Latino tenants in one of the properties that he owns- the same year that the local NAACP bestowed Sterling with his first lifetime achievement award.
That figure is a record payout in a discrimination legal action. Others- including former employees- have accused Sterling, who made his fortune in real estate, of making derogatory comments about his minority tenants in buildings that he owns.
Gibson also thinks the decision by several of the Clippers advertisers to abandon the team helped accelerate Sterling’s downfall. The exodus began on April 28, when several major sponsors, including Mercedes-Benz USA Used car dealership chain CarMax, airline Virgin America, and the Chumash Casino Resort, Kia Motors America, energy drink maker Red Bull and hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators announced they would no longer advertise with the Clippers.
“For advertisers, it’s important for them not to be associated with someone who is perceived as being damaged or can cast a negative light on them,” Gibson said, adding that she was not surprised that the companies moved quickly to distance themselves from the team.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was one of the first high-profile elected officials to call on the NBA to sanction Sterling. “These statements are offensive and despicable and have no place in Los Angeles,” the mayor said the day the news of Sterling’s statements was made public. “I urge the NBA to act swiftly. L.A. fans deserve and demand better.”
Gibson said Culver City businesses and others that sell Clipper merchandize could see an uptick in sales in the aftermath of Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA. “I think the public and the fans strongly support the team, but not the team management,” she said.
Regarding discussions on privacy that have surfaced since the recording were made public and whether personal conduct should force someone like Sterling to lose his investment, Gibson said there are new rules governing image and public relations in the 21st century.
“In the age of Twitter, Instagram and other social media, the definition of privacy has changed,” she concluded. “It’s still being defined.”