The Power of Words and the NBA’s Silver Lining

During a brief and sobering press conference yesterday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded making racist remarks to his now estranged mistress, will be fined $2.5 million and banned from the league for life.

Zero-tolerance: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces L.A. Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling’s ban for life.

Current and former players, coaches, NBA sponsors and corporate partners applauded Silver for taking swift and decisive action. “Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic league,” he noted.  In short, discrimination on and off the court will not be tolerated.

While this is arguably one of the most painful moments in recent NBA history, is there a silver lining in this unexpected fiasco?  The answer is:  absolutely.

Regardless of industry, discrimination simply has no place at work.   The need for progress continues, however this creates a prime opportunity to discuss ways we can all raise the bar on matters of inclusion.

Diversity is about embracing people, about dignity, about empowerment.  In order to be effective in the workplace, these basic tenets must be reinforced across all levels of an organization, especially by leadership and those in “the C-Suite.”  The curious case of Donald Sterling reminds us that when this critical piece is missing, the ability for any business to thrive is greatly diminished.

If you think the NBA’s “Sterling-gate” sounds like an episode from a reality TV show, we can’t argue.  It’s a train wreck, indeed.  But unlike the comical storylines that often play out on the screen, discrimination of any sort is no laughing matter.

Fortunately Sterling’s faux pas provides an opportunity for open dialogue about diversity and what it means to create an environment where ALL employees are valued.  It is not only vital, it is the right thing to do.

If you are female, African American, Hispanic or part of any other diverse group, you probably have your own stories to tell about racism in the workplace.  At some point throughout our careers, we’ve all encountered a Donald Sterling of sorts.   Possibly in the form of a boss, coworker or client— many of whom probably (still) have no idea their behavior was unacceptable.

This problem isn’t something that we can solve overnight, but the long-term benefits of bringing the subject to light have the capacity to change America.   Open, honest dialogue can now begin.  If you don’t think words are powerful, remember that’s what exposed Sterling’s unfortunate sentiments in the first place.

Like the NBA’s zero-tolerance response, significant action is needed to ultimately eradicate workplace discrimination.  In the meantime, speaking truth to power is an essential first step.

So, thank you Mr. Silver.  When this story broke, we were seething right along with you.  As we continue to individually do our part to promote inclusion, we can begin to root out the culprits of bigotry in the workplace.

What’s your silver lining story?  How have you succeeded in an environment that did not embrace diversity and inclusion?  Speak your peace and let’s raise the bar, together.

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