Case Study: Deviant Behavior

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When there is a need to define acceptable behavior, social control is used (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004).

Some of the principal strategies used to maintain social control include indoctrination, official and informal penalties. Sterling lost control of the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the NBA's endeavor to teach club owners the bounds of acceptable behavior. The NBA's policies were intended to prevent the establishment of racism inside connected franchises. Leaving Los Angeles Clippers under the ownership of Donald Sterling would have given the public the impression that there are no serious consequences for derogatory remarks on people of other races. Therefore, the action was meant to act as a warning to other stakeholders who were likely to get involved in similar deviant behavior in future.

The Use of Derogatory Language When Discussing a Member of Another Race by People of Sterling’s Age

Donald Sterling was born in 1934 in Russia and later moved to California with his family when he was a child. During this time, activities such as settlement, schooling, eating in restaurants and going to the movies were carried out in separation. Every person had to confine their activities into boundaries set to racial groups that were socially constructed. Therefore, people of Sterling’s age are more likely to believe and practice various forms of racism such as supremacism, segregation, discrimination, aversive racism and others. However, it is important to appreciate that such beliefs are not held by all the people within this age bracket. Though the social norms of men of Sterling’s age may not necessarily support the use of derogatory words on members of minority races, the members of this group are less likely to criticize the user. This is more likely to happen where the words are used in the absence of other age brackets. Men of Sterling’s age experienced vast racism when they were young. However, they did not have an opportunity to practice it as a norm during their adulthood. For instance, the Supreme Court ruled against the de jure racial segregation in schools for the first time in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). At this time, Sterling’s peers were in high school or college. Racism may not necessarily be considered a norm by Sterling’s peers but it is less likely to draw criticism from them.

There is no evidence showing that Sterling’s peers supported his use of derogatory language on members of other races. However, his friends seemed to care less than they should have about his behavior. They had opportunity to at least express their disapproval through informal sanctions such as avoiding his company. Their continued friendship with Sterling supported his behavior and made him deem it inconsequential. Therefore, though the use of derogatory remarks on people of other races may not be a norm, not sanctioning this behavior is not reasonable in a morally upright society.

How Informal Sanctions Would Have Deterred Sterling’s Behavior

Bruce NcNall, one of Sterling’s longtime friend, commented that Sterling created his own world and lived in it (Fenno et al., 2014). These comments indicate that McNall did not approve Sterling’s behavior. However, it is likely that McNall and his friends did not directly express disapproval of Sterling’s behavior. Instead they remained part of “Sterling’s own world.” The fact that Sterling continued enjoying the company of friends made him less likely to see the fault in his behavior.

Sterling cared about how the society perceived him. According to Fenno rt al. (2014), he made charitable contributions and made them public through advertisements. This was an effort to create a positive image of himself. After his derogatory remarks were made public, he was keen to redeem his image. Initially, the journalists were to record his five-minute apology. He extended the interview with CNN journalists to two hours. After the interview, he was still wondering whether he had made the right impression. This means that Sterling was keen on how the public viewed him. Any informal sanction would have definitely worked towards deterring Sterling’s behavior. He deeply cared about how other people viewed him. Ostracism by his peers would have simulated the reaction of the general public if his behavior became known to them. His friends would have made him realize that the choice of his words when speaking about people of other races would counteract all the efforts he had made to depict himself as an individual who cared for humanity. According to Rege and Telle (2004) social approval plays a key role in streamlining behavior of individuals and corporations towards what is desirable in the society.

How The $2.5 Million Fine Carried Out the Purpose of Protecting the Players and The League

NBA imposed a fine on Sterling as a way of expressing that it was keen on protecting the players and the league. To Sterling, $2.5 million may not be a significant amount of money given his vast wealth. When one of his friends tried to broker a deal and convince him to sell one of his unoccupied properties for $15 million, Sterling was quoted saying that the money was of no use to him. However, the fine’s primary purpose was to express NBAs commitment to protect its players and other stakeholders from racism.


Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954).

Fehr, E., & Fischbacher, U. (2004). Social norms and human cooperation. Trends in cognitive sciences, 8(4), 185-190.

Fenno, N., Christensen, K., & Rainey, J. (2014). Donald Sterling built an empire and an image; words were his undoing. Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2014. Retrieved from

Rege, M., & Telle, K. (2004). The impact of social approval and framing on cooperation in public good situations. Journal of public Economics, 88(7), 1625-1644.

April 19, 2023
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