Date of Publication
Dr. Matthew Althouse, Associate Professor, Communication
In the spring of 2014, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was rocked by a scandal involving racism. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the NBA’s thirty basketball teams, provoked a national controversy when Sterling made a series of disparaging statements about African Americans. Repercussions ranged from a staged silent protest by Clipper players to Sterling being banned for life from the NBA.
After his ban, Sterling tried to rectify the damage done by his racially charged comments. He embarked on a public relations campaign to resuscitate his image and regain control of his team ownership. However, Sterling’s campaign strategy was hopelessly flawed: He alternated between playing the victim, the apologist, and the aggressor, while never fully encompassing any of these roles. The failure of Sterling’s damage control was not only his continued exile from the NBA ranks, but considerable injury to his own reputation and status in society. Consequently, the result of Sterling’s efforts to clear his name was a public relations disaster, which did nothing to redeem Sterling in the eyes of society.
This thesis is designed to investigate the shortcomings of Sterling’s apologies and the implications of his controversial comments. To accomplish this goal, it utilizes Kenneth Burke’s guilt-redemption cycle. With terms associated with this process, this essay demonstrates that Sterling’s expression of regret—his “sacrifice”—was not sufficient to appease his critics in the National Basketball Association (NBA) or in American society at large. To explain the complexity of the Sterling controversy, this essay unfolds in four parts. First, the essay discusses the background of Sterling’s remarks. Second, this essay will explain Burke’s guilt redemption cycle and its associated concepts. Third, this essay will apply these concepts to analyze Sterling’s comments in four acts. Finally, this essay will conclude with closing commentary about the Sterling saga and its future implications.
Billings, Molly J., "The Dramatistic Implications of Burke's Guilt Redemption Cycle in the Donald Sterling Communication Crisis" (2015). Senior Honors Theses. 114.