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Susan Estrich: What do you say about a vulgarian?

 

Susan Estrich

 

My friends from outside of Los Angeles are horrified. "Donald Sterling is a pig?" they say with surprise. "A racist, ignorant, loud-mouthed fool?" And Jewish, to boot. This is not, my mother would have said, good for the Jews. 

 

No one I know who lives here is shocked at the news. I don't even think of him as Jewish. I think of him as Donald Sterling, the guy who used to crowd the front section of the newspaper with full-size ads praising himself for being honored by his own charities. 

 

The most shocking thing, my assistant joked with me, is how small the house is that the mistress got in Beverly Hills. Shelly Sterling suing over a $1.8 million condo? It must have been the cars. We laugh. Before you jump on me for insensitivity to racism, my assistant is African-American. It's just that Sterling never had a reputation as a good guy. 

 

Don't get me wrong -- I'm shedding no tears. No one forced him to give the interview he did on CNN. Attacking Magic Johnson? I don't think so. Here comes a whole new round of "sorrys." Won't work. 

 

Nor will the missus come out on top on this one, even if she is heaving the old boy under the bus as fast as she can. Today he has dementia? Last week, he was apparently fine to run the team, and she was just mad about the midsize condo and the cars. This week, holy war. If he's going to have to sell the team - and he is -- she might as well get her half. 

 

Sterling says it's just one mistake in 35 years as a good team owner. Don't believe it. It's never one mistake. One mistake, and your wife isn't saying you have dementia. One mistake, and someone, somewhere, would be jumping to his defense. 

 

But what to do with such a guy? 

 

Very simple. Move on. Let him, hopefully, be an example -- but not an example of Jews, because he isn't, or of Angelenos, because he isn't, or even of self-satisfied billionaires, because he isn't that, either. 

 

He's who he's always been: a vulgarian who didn't just happen to get rich. There are many wonderful rich people out there, but if you have all of the other talents, being selfish and self-righteous and ego-driven and having a wife who is willing to put up with almost anything (except, apparently, the cars), even going out as a trio with your girlfriend as long as she signs a friendship agreement and doesn't rock the boat, well, that probably can't hurt. 

 

And he's not alone. He is, no doubt, surrounded by people every day who have heard him say worse things than he did on the recording or on CNN and never said a word to him: didn't correct him, stand up to him, warn him, castigate him, nothing. 

 

It wasn't because they agreed with him. It's because you can get used to almost anything, particularly if you're being paid decently. 

 

I'm not talking only about the high-priced aides who are overpaid to be underwhelming. I'm also talking about all of the invisible people who heard him loud and clear and turned the other cheek -- the people who drove him all these years, who cooked his dinner, made his bed, took care of him when he was ill. Perhaps we'll soon see them paraded about, to tell us how Sterling took their child to a game or paid for a nurse for a sick mother. I hope he did something. 

 

Are they to blame? Of course not. Not any more than anyone else. But the whole world wasn't in the dark about this guy. If we're going to hold sports leaders to a high standard, and I'm all for that, let's hold the players to that same standard, as well as the leaders of other large corporations. And if that makes some people uncomfortable, maybe it's about time. And if it causes some of the folks around them to speak out, if only as a friendly warning, then that's good, too. It's the only good that's going to come of this.

 

 

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