Few Options for Embattled Clippers Owner Sterling to Stay in Game

Though some have been troubled by the nature of the married man's relationship with the young woman, that issue has been overshadowed by the racial content of what Sterling told her

From U.S. presidents to actors and athletes, public figures repeatedly have bounced back from revelations of offensive sins. But the recorded racist rant by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling is the kind of transgression the public has been less willing to forgive, say experts in the fields of public relations and crisis management.

"There's nothing he can do," said Mathew Hiltzik, president and CEO of Hiltzik Strategies, speaking by phone from New York.

"I don't think his reputation can be repaired, " said Hope Boonshaft, a senior partner with Rogers Finn Partners in Century City.

Both drew a distinction between Silver and the Clippers organization, whose coach Doc Rivers has become its defacto spokesperson in supporting the NBA commissioner's decision to ban Sterling for life.

"The team, defined by the coach and players, will be fine," Hiltzik said.

"Isolation and insulation do well for them going forward in the playoffs."  said Boonshaft.

If Sterling were to seek advice from Boonshaft, she would tell him not to try to fight back.

"Professionally, I would advise him to keep low key and not say anything," she said.

In fact, Sterling does appear to be following that strategy, having disappeared into seclusion.  He has said nothing publicly, nor issued any statements, since the Clippers responded to the initial news reports of his rant with a statement questioning the recording's authenticity.  

Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league was satisfied it was Sterling's voice, and it was not taken out of context.

The front doors of Sterling's Beverly Hills headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard remain locked, and through the glass doors, a security guard waved off a reporter's attempt to reach someone through the speaker box.

A few blocks away at Sterling's long-time estate, ringing the bell at the front gate brought outside a woman, but she declined to share any information.

The American people have shown a remarkable capacity to forgive figures who show contrition. President Bill Clinton returned to the world stage after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  Kobe Bryant publicly apologized for infidelity to his wife when he was accused in Colorado of a sexual assault. The Lakers star was later acquitted and his popularity returned.

But the Sterling case is different, in Boonshaft's view.  Sterling was recorded chastising a woman friend for associating in public with African Americans.  Though some have been troubled by the nature of the married man's relationship with the young woman, that issue has been overshadowed by the racial content of what he told her.

"Once you make those kinds of remarks, and they go public, I don't think there's anyone that would condone this, that wouldn't think this is despicable," said Boonshaft.

Over the years, the real estate mogul has become known favorably for his philanthropy, often the subject of newspaper advertisements.

"He's very concerened about his image, and this will hurt him," said Boonshaft.

Despite being banned for life from the NBA, Sterling remains the Clippers' owner, at least for now. Sterling, 80, has not said whether he'll fight to keep them.

"I think people will urge him to retire from the scene. But if he wants to go out fighting, he certainly can do that. If the league has the votes to force him to sell the team, he can fight it.  And he can tie it up in  court for the rest of his life," said Boonshaft.

The PR expert sees a wiser course: stepping aside.  

"Eventually, at least it would be seen as possibly in most people's perceptions the right thing to do," Boonshaft said.

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