Sometimes in sports, it seems like things move at a snail’s pace. Oh, sure, real time in our daily lives flies by. One season begins to blend right into the next the older we get. But when it comes to making actual change in sports in any meaningful way, things take a while.
Whether it be drug testing in baseball, concussion protocols in football, putting advertising on uniforms, suspending a player for having someone let some air out of some footballs, or any other issue, big or small, they have a tendency to take some time to either get implemented or to alter an expected outcome. Obviously those issues listed above are all pretty significant issues, but even smaller things tend to linger in sports.
What kind of smaller things? Grudges, controversies, legal issues with players, etc., etc., etc. You know, things like this Charles Oakley debacle. When I wrote my “While We’re Waiting…” last Tuesday, this incident hadn’t yet occurred. I remember Wednesday night thinking to myself that it was a really slow sports day. I wondered to myself what the lead story would be on sports talk the next morning. I really did.
Fortunately for said sports talk cycles, that night Charles Oakley attended the New York Knicks game. And all hell broke loose.
Suddenly, everyone had something to talk about. Including the New York Knicks organization, which put out the following statement:
“Charles Oakley came to the game tonight and behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner,” the Knicks wrote in a statement on Twitter. “He has been ejected and is currently being arrested by the New York City Police Department. He was a great Knick and we hope he gets some help soon.”
He was a great Knick, and we hope he gets some help soon. Help for what, exactly? Anger management? Drinking? Drugs? Stadium etiquette? The Knicks weren’t clear on that point. It was a petty, cheap low-blow to Oakley. I don’t think anyone would dispute that Oakley’s behavior at Madison Square Garden that night was completely unacceptable. But the Knicks’ statement was so much worse because it didn’t attempt to provide closure or answers, it wanted to humiliate Oakley. It made it sound like Oakley had a problem and the natural assumption most people went to was alcohol and/or drugs.
I saw the video of Oakley’s interview upon being released from jail after his arrest that night. He didn’t look inebriated or under the influence of anything. His answers were calm, measured, and reasonable. Were they truthful? Eh, I don’t really know. But it certainly didn’t seem like someone who needed “help”. It made the Knicks seem irresponsible, really. Irresponsible because there are a lot of people in this world who really do need help, and trying to use that to further public favor is incredibly lame.
Then again, this is the New York Knicks we’re talking about. The same franchise that currently has a team President (Phil Jackson) who has been antagonizing the team’s star (Carmelo Anthony) all season to some end. After Wednesday’s events, Phil Jackson sent out this ridiculous tweet:
So after starting a 🔥storm with a misunderstood tweet, I offer this✌🏻our society is torn with discord. I'm against it. Let It Be
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) February 9, 2017
Then over the weekend, the Knicks decided to one up this by inviting Latrell Sprewell (who, like Oakley, had been estranged from the franchise due to his critical remarks about the team) to come to the game, sit beside Knicks owner James Dolan and be recognized by the fans. It was so over-the-top transparent that it just brought on some of the most over-dramatic eye rolls you could see.
The Knicks, one of the NBA’s most marquee franchises, have become a mockery in every way. An absolute embarrassment. And now, with neither the Knicks nor Oakley backing down, the rhetoric seemed to be only starting. This seemed to be one of those things that would take a long time to change in sports.
But to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, enough was enough. He wanted this to end, and he wanted it to stop right now. Never one to let things linger, Silver quickly moved to get Dolan and Oakley both in his office, with Michael Jordan participating via phone, to discuss a resolution.
Some would say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, that it’s better to be in the press for the wrong reasons than to not be in the press at all. Adam Silver disagrees. Any time there has been anything that threatens to have the NBA in the media for the wrong reasons, Silver has moved extraordinarily quick to resolve it.
When Donald Sterling’s recorded racist remarks were made public, it seemed like the kind of controversy that would linger and cast a dark cloud over the league for months, if not years. That recording of Sterling was released by TMZ on April 25, 2014. Just a mere four days later, on April 29, Adam Silver announced that he had banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million, the max allowed under league rules. Sterling was prohibited from entering any Clippers facility, he was not allowed to attend any NBA game, and all his powers as owner of the team were stripped away. By May 29, a sale of the Clippers had been agreed to.
When the state of North Carolina passed a state law that created a sort of gray area for discrimination against LGBT people, Adam Silver made it clear it was unacceptable for the league to hold any major events in a place where fans of the league might be discriminated against. With Charlotte set to host the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, Silver quickly maneuvered to move the game to New Orleans instead.
Seemingly any time there is some kind of issue, or controversy, surrounding the NBA, Silver has been there to act decisively to move past the issue. So when Silver saw the NBA becoming a top story on every major news outlet, sports or not, he wanted a resolution. So he sat down with Dolan and Oakley and they figured out a resolution. After the meeting, Silver released the following statement:
“It is beyond disheartening to see situations involving members of the NBA family like the one that occurred at Madison Square Garden this past week. In an effort to find a path forward, New York Knicks owner Jim Dolan, Charles Oakley, and I met today at the league office, along with Michael Jordan, who participated by phone.
“Both Mr. Oakley and Mr. Dolan were apologetic about the incident and subsequent comments, and their negative impact on the Knicks organization and the NBA. Mr. Dolan expressed his hope that Mr. Oakley would return to MSG as his guest in the near future.
“I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Dolan, Mr. Oakley and Mr. Jordan to work towards a resolution of this matter.”
That’s it. No need to admonish one side or embarrass anyone. Just a simple, but stern, statement of facts to allow everyone involved to move past the issue with their pride and egos intact. It’s a sign of great leadership and resolve and the NBA is lucky to have Silver as their commish.
I mention all of this simply because it’s such a stark contrast to Roger Goodell’s leadership style. Goodell has been in the media himself lately, though not much of it for things I would consider “good”. There was the issue of him avoiding going to Foxborough for a Patriots playoff game. There was the awkwardness of him congratulating Tom Brady on winning the Super Bowl. There were the recent reports of NFL execs being infuriated with New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who wore a Goodell clown shirt coming off the team plane after the Super Bowl win. None of this is to mention the lingering legal issues from Ray Rice to Greg Hardy to everyone in between.
The NFL can’t seem to get out of its own way when it comes to public relations, and a lot of that trickles down from the leadership at the top. Commissioners work for the owners, not the players, so it would be easy to say, “Well, of course the players hate the commissioner.” When you hear NBA players talk about Adam Silver, though, the tone is much different. Even with the latest labor agreement struck between the league and the players, Silver was able to get the owners to quickly agree to a deal that has benefits to both sides. And the deal was done with a quickness and ease I’ve never seen before in my lifetime with the NBA.
Some might wonder why I, or anyone else, should care about any of this. But I view commissioners as stewards of the sports I love. And the sports I watch are so much more fun when there is labor harmony and the league, the owners, and the players all work for compromise in the name of mutual benefit. I’ve talked a lot over the past year or two about how my passion for NFL football seems to be declining. It’s not an outcome I desire, but it’s very real. And much of it has to do with the way the league has been run under Roger Goodell. To quote Phil Jackson above, “‘I’m against it.”
The recent events of the last week or two have really driven home to me the differences in how the NBA and the NFL are being run. Thankfully, Major League Baseball seems to have a commissioner in Rob Manfred who is more Adam Silver than Roger Goodell, seeking to proactively work to make baseball the best game it can be and to promote a healthy public image that is inviting to all fans of every walk of life. No one person can make me dislike an entire sport, but Goodell seems to keep making it harder and harder to feel good about football. And that’s a problem.
The NFL Draft is just over two months away. It’ll be a chance for fans to boo Goodell and you better believe the boos will be raining down from the rafters. I don’t know how Goodell feels about it personally, but one has to wonder how he feels when he sees Adam Silver cheered by fans at the NBA Draft. Commissioners matter to various degrees to different people, but no matter where their level of importance falls on your personal scale, I have to admit I feel pretty fortunate to have Silver watching over my personal favorite sport.