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Donald Sterling apologizes

May 11, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

Behind closed doors (if you believe the audio wasn’t intended to be leaked), Donald Sterling has been defiant and disgustingly racist.

In front of cameras, he’s carrying a different tone.

The NBA can’t have an openly racist owner – even if it’s open only due to a leaked recording. It’s bad for business.

Before Adam Silver penalized Sterling, I believed there were two possible paths.

1. If the league believed it could force out Sterling, it would.

2. If the league didn’t believe it could force out Sterling, Silver would work behind the scenes with Sterling, engineering a program that started with an apology and included therapy, Sterling choosing to match the NBA’s fine with his own donation to charity and Sterling quietly serving his suspension outside the spotlight. Afterward, the firestorm would have died down, and maybe, Sterling could own the team without major protest.

But the NBA proceeded down path No. 1, so it’s too late for No. 2 now. Any acceptance of his apology by scaling back his punishments would be seen only as forgiving racism, and the league can’t afford to be viewed that.

It’s nice Sterling apologized, and I hope it’s sincere. Years of contradictory action suggest his apology is not rooted in an enlightened understanding of racism, but it’s at least possible this was a wakeup call for him.

How should he correct the problem? Some genuine involvement in the anti-racism movement, both financially and with his time. See how Tim Hardaway Sr. handled his anti-gay comments. He learned from his mistake and has become a passionate gay-rights advocate.

Embarking on a lengthy legal battle with the NBA is Sterling’s right, but that sure isn’t going going to fix anything in the grand sense. It certainly won’t heal nay of the relationships he’s fractured.

Sterling will have a chance to prove whether his apology was sincere – or not.

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