The Monday feature of the Worldly Saints blog focuses on a story from the sports world – current or historic. The point is to recognize athletes who are using their sports and athletic abilities to further the kingdom of God or to show how some athletes are wasting their days by not giving God the glory.
Last week, the sports world was buzzing with news about Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Sterling was banned for life from the NBA on April 29, 2014 for making racist comments in private – that later become public. In a taped conversation with girlfriend V. Stiviano, Sterling ranted about her posting pictures of herself and Magic Johnson on Instagram. Sterling was quoted as saying to Stiviano, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. … You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. … the little I ask you is not to bring them to my games.”
However, this private conversation got taped and then, somehow, it got to TMZ Sports and was released to the world. How that happened – we will find out some day. But for now, Sterling admitted to having the conversation. Then, Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, issued the greatest judgment in the world of sports since Pete Rose’s banning from MLB. Silver banner Sterling from the NBA. Sterling can no longer attend NBA functions, visit the Staples Center where the Clippers play, or participate in any business decisions for the Clippers or the NBA.
Then, the other twenty-nine NBA team owners voted unanimously to attempt to require Sterling to sell the team. I am still not sure how all of that works, but as my friend Michael would say, “It is what it is.”
So this is a mess, right? What do we learn from this story? I want to give you two things I am thankful to have been reminded of with these events and then give you two things that concern me about it all.
1. Racism is sin and all sin should be accounted for. We have been fighting racism as a society since sin was introduced to the planet. And when someone sinfully discriminates against an individual, there should be a reckoning, Within the very fabric of God’s nature is judgment. All sin will and must be punished. James tells us, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (Jas 2:8-9). And then Paul wrote, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28). When someone dishonors God by dishonoring others in this manner, there should be consequences. Sterling is paying for his sin(s). He will no longer be able to step inside the Staples Center and cheer on the team he helped build and he will now face an uphill battle to restore his reputation in one of the most ethnic cities in our world.
2. Our behavior – whether it be public or private – will be judged. Even if no one sees us sin, God sees our sin(s). There is no such thing as privacy with an omnipresent God. And we should not somehow be surprised there are consequences for someone who sins have found them out (Num 32:23).
1. What does this say for the ongoing debate over privacy? What of the ethics of someone taping a private conversation that could be damaging to one’s reputation and then broadcasting that to the world? I have no proof that Stiviano is a professing believer, but the fact remains this was a very unbiblical and foolish way to deal with someone’s sins. When we witness inappropriate behavior or speech like this, we are not to go share it with the world. Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. …” (Matt 18:15). To do anything else is not honoring to the one who has sinned, and it could also be labeled as slander or gossip in some circumstances. Whoever made this recording and then released it to the public should also be held accountable.
2. The conversation on hate speech continues and intensifies. While I see this as a good thing that we need to eliminate ungodly speech about others (i.e., the racist speech like Sterling’s), I also know that God’s definition of hate speech and the world’s definition of hate speech are not the same. I know as a preacher if I say, “Homosexuals are living in sin,” that can be interpreted as hate speech. And we are living in a time when issues like this are going to become more and more relevant to the local church. The world doesn’t like the church speaking out against it’s sinful behavior and the time for the world tolerating us calling sin how God sees seems to be coming to an end.
In summary, Sterling got banned and he should have. I am thankful for the NBA Commissioner’s willingness to hold Sterling accountable to such a high standard of speech. On the other hand, we should be reminded from this event that God will be honored and pleased when we handle these situations in a more private manner than what we have seen played out in our media in the last seven days.