Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

The Madness of Donald Sterling

Like most Americans, I was appalled by the comments that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made about his discomfort with people of color. The National Basketball Association, the league to which his team belongs, quickly levied the harshest possible punishment upon him: a maximum fine and expulsion from the league (via a forced, or heavily pressured sale of the franchise).Azaleas

By now you may have heard that former Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer has offered $2 billion for the Clippers. Pundits are thunderstruck at the offer, because Sterling purchased the team for a mere $12.5 million in 1981. The highest price ever paid for an NBA team is a bit more than $500 million, which makes Ballmer’s offer look especially outrageous.

As with all media-hyped frenzies, there are aspects of the Sterling saga about which I am curious:

  • Was Sterling baited?
  • Was mistress/girlfriend V. Stiviano paid off to record Sterling’s rant, or did she simply do it out of spite or a quest for justice?
  • What kind of name is “V.”?

Recent reports have indicated that Donald Sterling may have Alzheimer’s dementia. His estranged wife Shelly openly offered Barbara Walters this opinion in a televised interview. News reports from ‘unnamed sources’ indicate that Donald Sterling has been diagnosed by two neurologists as having ‘early’ dementia, and that he may have had it as long as 3-5 years.

Let’s assume that Donald Sterling does have dementia (the same news reports claim that he has been ‘declared mentally incapacitated’). This raises more questions:

  • Is Donald Sterling authentically racist, or were his comments made only from the throes of his affliction?
  • How accountable should Sterling be if his mind is playing tricks on him?
  • And again: Where is the threshold through which someone crosses into dementia?

1 Comment

  1. BRUCE KIMZEY, J.D. (@ICUPatient)

    I can speak to my own experiences during the 17 days I was afflicted by ICU delirium. I was 54 years old then and, like most people my age, was raised by parents who were not racist by the standards of their time, but who still spoke about blacks, Mexicans etc in stereotypical ways, referred to African-Americans as this old “boy” or “this colored fella”. I like to think I am more enlightened and not a racist. But when I was in delirium I reverted to about the level of my parents combined with a heavy dose of paranoia. Thus, I believed that the man who shaved my body for CABG was a legless dwarf and that he pimped for the Asian nurses who took care of me. I don’t recall any of this – it’s only what I’ve been told. So I think you don’t have to have dementia to experience a regression of your racial attitudes.
    ICU delirium is a vastly under-diagnosed condition, one which I have undertaken on Twitter and elsewhere to help provide some enlightenment. But my own experience tells me that if, at 54, I could ‘revert’ to more racist tendencies that an 80 yr-old who grew up in even more racist times could be expected to say some inappropriate things without meaning harm. People assume that everyone ho can put a few sentences together is completely lucid but I know that this isn’t so.

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