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Civility in Sports takes another Hit

When will Owners Learn that everything you Say can and will be Held against you in the Court of Public Opinion

By now you would think that owners of professional sports teams would have learned that 'Everything you Say can and will be Held against you in the Court of Public Opinion. How is it that owners can be so insensitive to blacks who have given so much to sports and comprise the majority of the players in most professional sports teams?

Just when we think it might be safe to give the benefit of the doubt to team owners, along comes Danny Ferry, general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, who took a leave of absence from his role with the team last Friday after making an inflammatory assessment of Luol Deng during a conference call with the Hawks' ownership group this past June as the team was pursuing the free agent. The GM described Deng as someone who "has a little African in him. He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back," Ferry said on the call, which was recorded.

Then there was Bruce Levensen, who sold his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks earlier this month, after being quoted as speculating in an email sent in August 2012, that the team's black fans had "scared away whites" and that there were "not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base."

Of course we all remember that Donald Sterling was forced to sell his ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers. Back in April he was quoted as making racially insensitive comments to his girlfriend that he doesn't want her to bring black people to the games or post pictures with black people on Instagram. The taped recording starts in the middle of an argument between Sterling and his girlfriend, V. Siviano. Sterling appears to be upset that Stiviano, who is black and Mexican, had been posting photos to Instagram of herself with black people -- in particular, with Magic Johnson.

The ethical issue is whether a team owner or other top official should be forced to sell the team after making racially-charged comments about blacks. The answer is a resounding 'yes' not because the general public finds them offensive. Instead, there is no place in sports for any offensive comment whether directed against blacks, gays or other groups. In fact, the real issue here is not discrimination against one group or another. It is that our humanity should lead us to find such comments repugnant and offensive to our sensibilities. The comments smack of a lack of civility that seems to be affecting all of society today much as it has in our past. It goes against our belief that we are a nation built on equal treatment of others.

Ferry, Levensen and Sterling are not the first sports executives to put their proverbial foot in their mouth. I remember back to 1987 when the Los Angeles Dodgers fired team Vice President Al Campanis for remarks he made in a nationally televised interview two days earlier on ABC-TV's "Nightline." Campanis made several comments that were seen as being insensitive at best and, at worst, bordering on being racist. Companis told Ted Koppel that he thought blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager" in baseball and voiced doubts as to whether blacks even wanted management positions in the sport.

Then there was Marge Schott, the former managing general partner, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds, who was forced out as the majority partner of the team after being quoted in 1999 as calling Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker, as her million dollar n......"

People view civility from different perspectives ranging from good manners -- especially courtesy and politeness -- to learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes all of these things as well as mutual respect, fairness, and it is a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.

George Washington transcribed Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation sometime around the age of sixteen. He identified 110 rules of civility, the first of which is "Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present." I like the comment because it incorporates respect into civil behavior, a characteristic of behavior that is all-too-often missing from our national discourse today whether it be postings on the Internet, the nature of dialogue in politics, workplace behavior, bullying and other forms of offensive behavior that have no more place in society today as it did years ago.

Perhaps Dr. P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, said it best: Don't discount the power of your words. The thought that they might cause unnecessary hurt or discomfort should inform every conversation."

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 16, 2014. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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