What's Donald Sterling's Hang-Up?

Eighty-year-old men dating young beauties often slip off the deep end

Posted Apr 28, 2014

Remember Marlene Dietrich's 1930 film, "The Blue Angel," in which showgirl Lola seduces and weds sad sack professor Emil Jannings, who ends up literally playing the clown in Lola's cabaret show?

Jannings lost his appeal for Dietrich when he exhausted his meager bank account. Switch forward to Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, whose racial views were captured in a recording of a conversation he had with Vivian Stiviano, Sterling's girlfriend. Stiviano appears to be quite a few decades (shall we say five or so?) younger than Sterling.

Although Sterling hasn't run out of money (yet), there is some financial conflict in the air. According to CNN, last month Sterling's estranged wife sued Stiviano for inducing her billionaire lover to buy Stiviano a $1.8 million home and automobiles worth at least $500,000, along with $240,000 for living expenses. (Can you really sue someone because a billionaire spent a million or so dollars on her?)

What might make an old man spend a lot of money to keep a beautiful young woman by his side? Let's leave that philosophical question for readers to ponder. Nonetheless, the released conversation between the two lovers (or is it former lovers?) includes these lines:

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people." Later he says, “I’m just saying, in your … Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.  Don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me.”

Further: "You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is ... not to bring them to my games."

Now what would make a man want to prevent his girlfriend from parading her liaisons with other men, black men, publicly? Does Sterling want to avoid being Stiviano's clown, her pathetic Jannings reduced to a laughing stock for all the world to see? A man who spent a good part of his fortune to induce a young beauty to put up with him, and then that deal unwound?

In making his point, did Sterling go off the deep end, describing black ball players as servants he employs and provides with life's necessities: "I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses." Sterling appears to be, shall we say, a bit controlling: "I don't want to change. If my girl can't do what I want, I don't want the girl. I'll find a girl that will do what I want. Believe me. I thought you were that girl—because I tried to do what you want. (That last is a little plaintive, don't you think?)

By asserting his control over black men, was Sterling showing Stiviano he was superior to younger, more physically appealing competitors for her affection?

If Sterling does lose his ownership stake in the Clippers, the primary cause may be an old man's jealousy, sexual insecurity, and control freakiness. These are feelings as old and as basic as racism.

Stanton Peele has been empowering people around addiction since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program. His new book (written with Ilse Thompson) is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict with The PERFECT Program. Follow Stanton on Twitter and at www.peele.net (newly renovated).