Donald Sterling, Derek Jeter and the better part of valor

New York Yankees  Derek Jeter  warming up before a game against the Baltimore Orioles on June 28, 2007 in Baltimore.  Photograph by Keith Allison

New York Yankees Derek Jeter warming up before a game against the Baltimore Orioles on June 28, 2007 in Baltimore.  Photograph by Keith Allison

When I was a young reporter, a columnist asked me casually about a recent holiday. The next day, I read all about it in her column, to my surprise – and chagrin. 

I was reminded then of something that I had learned as a child but had momentarily forgotten: Never say anything to anyone that you wouldn’t want to see in print.

My indiscretion was pretty innocuous. I revealed nothing beyond a ham and a turkey (literally) – which is more than we can say for Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling. He’s accused of spewing the kind of racism and sexism that harks back to the 19th century. But then, I guess you can’t really expect discretion from a man who maintained a wife and a mistress simultaneously.

Let’s be clear: Harboring the kind of thoughts Sterling apparently does – admonishing former mistress V. Stiviano not to appear with black men at Clippers’ games – is morally wrong. But this is not a post about harboring such thoughts, which I think are a failure of our culture and our educational system. It’s about communicating such thoughts.

We live in a society in which we’re encouraged to let it all hang out. The Internet reinforces the idea that circumspection is both arcane and dishonest. If you’re not on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, if you’re not LinkedIn every moment, you’re a dinosaur.

But there’s something to be said for being judicious. The heroes of my new novel “Water Music” are young men who try to fly under the gaydar. One of my readers has described them as “devious.” And in truth, they don’t always act maturely (or there wouldn’t be a novel). But is it devious to keep your private life to yourself?

Would that some of the characters in my upcoming novel “In This Place You Hold Me” were as contained. But my novel's Coach Pat Smalley, the head coach of The New York Templars, thinks nothing of racist, sexist, homophobic rants. And The Temps’ management doesn’t think twice about inspecting star quarterback Quinton Day Novak for gang tattoos, simply because he’s a shade or two darker than they are. The plantation mentality is alive and well among The Temps – and the Clippers.

This is Derek Jeter’s last season as a New York Yankee, and one of the qualities that has been celebrated on his farewell tour is his gentlemanly conduct. His interviews may seem programmed at times, in keeping with the Yanks’ buttoned-down, corporate image. Still, there’s something refreshing about someone who lets his on-field performance do the talking – and measures his words carefully.

Here’s Jeter – child of a black father and white mother – on l’affaire Sterling:

"It's unfortunate, but I'm not naïve to think that there aren't people who feel that way. It's just when someone is in that position it's just sad to hear. But once again, I don't know all of the details. I only know a little bit about what I've heard. I don't really like to have an opinion on something that's not proven yet, but if that's the case, then that's really sad."