In CNN Interview, Donald Sterling said, “It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again…” But, did his Body Language mean it?


In an exclusive 05/12/14 CNN TV Interview with Anderson Cooper, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling gave a public apology, “It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again…”

But, did his Body Language mean it?  Watch the CNN video clip of Sterling’s apology:
And then read the Accurate Body Language LLC play-by-play body language and statement analysis of Donald Sterling’s apology from the CNN interview:

DS:   “I’m a good member who made a mistake.”

  • Right hand is vertical with wide-spread fingers, and shaking on the word, “…mistake” showing discomfort and submissiveness
  • Eyes are extremely narrow and almost shut closed.  In addition, both the inner eyebrows and inner eyelids above the nose area are lifted in an inverted V.  These clusters of non-verbal body gestures reveal his sense of sadness and remorse

DS:   “…and I am apologizing…”

  • Right hand (with open, wide-spread fingers)gives a soft vertical downward chop after he says the word “…apologizing…”
  • Downward chop is a subconscious alpha body language illustrator. In life and in business, Sterling is used to being the alpha dominate boss.
  • However, the soft vertical chop is less intense with the beta body language illustrator of open wide spread fingers.
  • Sterling does not go so far as to give us a totally horizontal submissive right hand, with full open palm-up in his apology.
  • The timing of this downward vertical chop matches and puts emphasis on the word “…apologizing…”
  • In this moment, Sterling appears to be genuine in his attempt to apologize showing body language indicators of sadness and synchronicity between his verbal words and non-verbal gestures

DS:   “…and I am asking for forgiveness…”

  • Fingers continue to be open and wide-spread as he is “…asking for forgiveness”
  • However, this phrase is very uncomfortable for him to get through

DS:   “Am I entitled to one mistake?”

  • Right hand reaches to the back of the neck and rubs/scratches the back of his neck as he is asking, “…Am I entitled to one mistake?”
  • Neck touching, rubbing, or scratching is a self-pacifying non-power gesture
  • By lifting his collar away from his neck skin, Sterling also allows ventilation and air to the neck area in an attempt to help reduce stress and discomfort

DS:   “…after 35 years?”

  • Sterling corrects the neck rubbing gesture by moving the right hand to touch/rest his face and right check on his hand and fingers.  Symbolically, it shows the head is too heavy to be self-supporting and must be rested on his hand as he says, “…after 35 years…”
  • His neck and face touching gestures indicate his unease

DS:   “I mean, I love my league…and I love my part…”

  • Right hand is still resting on his face and check revealing continued uncertainty and unease
  • He emphasized the word “love” in the phrase, “I mean…, I love my league…”
  • He does not finish the word “partner” or “partnership…” resulting in an unfinished, or a change in, thought because he did not complete the full sentence

DS:   “…am I entitled to one mistake?”

  • Sterling repeats this question, which shows this is an important point for him to convey
  • Sterling gives a soft right index finger point.  Generally, a finger point is an aggressive alpha illustrator.  He softens this gesture by dropping the index finger.

DS:   “…it’s a terrible mistake…”

  • His eyes squeeze tightly shut and his inner eyebrows and eyelids above the nose continue to lift in an inverted V, consistent with authentic sadness and remorse
  • Instead of saying “I made a terrible mistake…” he subconsciously uses the distancing word “…it’s” in the phrase, “…it’s a terrible mistake…”
  • Sterling also placed emphasis on the word “…terrible…mistake…”
  • His head nod goes from left to right and matches the left to right horizontal gesture of his index finger. He truly believes he made a terrible mistake and regrets saying the offensive words

DS:   “…and, I will never do it again…”

  • Although he tries to convince us by saying the phrase, “and, I will never do it again…” his head nod goes from right to left and does not match or synchronize with the left to right horizontal gesture of his index finger.
  • There is incongruence between his verbal words, “and, I will never do it again…” with his previous matching of his left to right head nod and his left to right horizontal gesture of his index finger.
  • Nonverbally, his head and body are not agreeing with his verbal words, “and, I will never do it again…” Subconsciously, his body knows the truth that he will do it again and make these mistakes again.

DS:   “I really don’t know…the people that are going to decide my fate…I think…are not the media (as he looks directly at Anderson Cooper), and not the players’ union, but the NBA…”
AC:  “The owners…”
DS:  “Pardon me…?”
AC:  “The owners…”
DS:  “The owners.”

  • Sterling gives an asymmetrical shoulder shrug with his right ear going towards his lifted right shoulder, and then an asymmetrical shoulder fall revealing uncertainty with his verbal statement, “The owners.”

DS:  “If the owners feel that I deserve another chance, then they will give it to me.”

  • Sterling voice is soft and quiet during this end of this statement when he says, “…then they will give it to me…”

AC: “But, there is a path for you to fight their decision, isn’t there?”
DS:  “Of course, but…if… you fight…with my partners…what at the end of the…the end of the road, what do I benefit? Especially at my age? “
DS:  “If they fight with me and they spend millions, and I spend millions..”

  • Sterling shows a micro-expression of contempt with an asymmetrical lift of his left mouth corner of the mouth and a smacking sound.

DS:  “Let’s say I win or they win…I just don’t know…it that’s important…”

  • Sterling gives another shoulder shrug of uncertainty, but this time, both sides of the shoulders appear to be more in synch with the lift and fall.

AC: “Why wait so long to apologize?  It’s been a couple of weeks…”
DS:  “Now, that is a very good question…”

  • This is typically a stalling response to give the speaker a few seconds time to think of a good response
  • Sterling looks away from Anderson Copper and then Sterling closes his eyes. Both the looking away and closing the eyes are distancing and blocking behaviors.
  • Sterling does not answer the question posed from Anderson Cooper of “Why wait so long to apologize?”

DS:  “I just…I am so emotionally distraught…”

  • Right hand is still in a vertical chop with open wide fingers

DS:  “and the reason it’s hard for me…very hard for me…is it…”

  • Sterling now has his two fingers on his right temple area, possibly indicating a pain area

DS:  “I am wrong…I caused the problem…and I don’t know how to correct it…”

  • Sterling now has moves his two fingers off his right temple area into the air with full open fingers showing full accountability and responsibility for his actions.
  • Open fingers are synchronized and match with verbal words of, “I am wrong…I caused the problem…”

After a couple more comments from Anderson Cooper, he asks Sterling, “Do you trust people…Do you have anyone you trust around you?”
DS:  “I do!”

  • Sterling gives another tongue thrust outward at Anderson Cooper
  • Sterling now has both hands up in the air, slightly rubbing his forefingers, cuticles, and thumbs together in a pacifying gesture

DS:  “I don’t give interviews”

  • Sterling now opens up both hands up in the air indicating openness and truthfulness

DS:  “The only one that I know that I talked to is Magic Johnson…twice!”

  •  Both of his hands open up even wider in the air indicating more openness and truthfulness

AC:  “Did you talk to him?”


DS:  “The only one that I know that I talked to is Magic Johnson…twice!  He knew the girl…he said…he knew the girl well”

  • Sterling uses distancing language with the words, “the girl” instead of referring to V. Stiviano by name.
  • Sterling also stuck out his tongue after he said, “he knew the girl well”
  • It is unclear if Sterling’s tongue thrust was directed at Magic Johnson, ‘the girl,’ or both Magic Johnson and the ‘girl.’

AC:  “Did you apologize to him?”

DS:  “Well…”

  • This is a typical stalling or deception indicator “hot-spot.”
  • Sterling does not answer this Yes/No question.

DS:  “If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry…”

  • Hands and fingers are still open and wide spread.
  • Sterling uses the qualifying word, “If…” to not fully admit that he did say anything wrong.

DS:  “He’s a good person, and he…”

  • Although Sterling starts to say Magic Johnson is a good person, Sterling’s gaze looks downward, he sticks out his tongue, and licks his lips with eyes shut.
  • This cluster of body language show signs of dislike, distaste, and blocking regarding the topic of Magic Johnson.
  • Sterling does not complete the sentence that Magic is a good person, and shrugs

DS:  “What am I going to say…?”

  • Sterling pauses and then redirects attention away from his own actions to go on the offensive with attacks and projection of guilt and shame onto Magic Johnson


DS:  “Has he done everything he can do to help minorities…?  I don’t think so…”

  • Sterling continues to have open hands and wide spread fingers in the air
  • Both of his shoulders lift and shrug up and down symmetrically together
  • These statements are congruent with Sterling’s beliefs

DS:  “But…I’ll say it…I’ll say it…you know…he’s great…but…”

  • Sterling continues to have open hands and wide spread fingers in the air
  • Even though Sterling starts to say (Magic Johnson) is great, Sterling once again looks downward when he says, “He’s great…”
  • Sterling then sticks out his tongue when he talks about Magic Johnson. This suggests that he does not like Magic Johnson because Sterling’s words do not match his body language.

DS:  “But…I…I… just don’t think he is a good example for the children of Los Angeles”

  • Sterling moves from open and lifted eyebrows to furrowed inside eyebrows when he says
    “…the children of Los Angeles”
  • Furrowed inside eyebrows suggest anger, dislike, or contempt towards Magic Johnson

Accurate Body Language LLC Summary:

In summary and to a large extent, Donald Sterling does take personal responsibility for the offensive words that he used in a heated verbal exchange with his girlfriend V. Stiviano.

Sterling directly states that he is wrong, he made a mistake, asks for forgiveness, and shows truthful body language indicators of sadness, remorse, and shame.

However, when given the opportunity, Sterling easily redirects and projects the blame to Magic Johnson.  In addition, Sterling’s apology is generic and not specific to Magic Johnson.  Instead of a specific apology to Magic Johnson, Sterling reveals his true negative feelings toward Magic Johnson.

Therefore, if the words say one thing and the body reveals something else, then believe the BODY!

“From Head-to-Toes, the BODY Always Shows…the TRUTH!”
 Accurate Body Language LLC



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