In the last decade, America has taken great strides to becoming a more inclusive, progressive nation under the leadership of President Barack Obama. From legalizing marijuana to gay marriage, these efforts are growing with the ever-so changing generations.
Simultaneously, the NBA has made efforts to keep with the times, much quicker than other professional sport leagues. Much of this forward-thinking has to do with the leadership of Adam Silver, who replaced David Stern as commissioner in 2014. In just two years, Silver has made an effort to shake up the traditional rules of basketball, like the infamous “Hack-A-Shaq” move and moving the three-point line. At the same time, he has been the ultimate enforcer when it comes to disciplinary actions and risky decisions.
Months into Silver’s new role, former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rant was recorded by his then-girlfriend. Instead of simply fining him and moving on, commissioner Silver pushed for a fine and a vote to ban Sterling for life. His decision was unanimously upheld by the NBA owners committee, and the team was subsequently sold from under Sterling. This is considered one of the harshest penalties made in the history of professional sports, which speaks volumes when you think about all the controversy that surrounds professional athletes.
Most recently, the decision to move 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities out of Charlotte due to North Carolina’s controversial passage of HB2, or “the bathroom bill” was risky, but once again displayed Silver’s no-nonsense attitude on discrimination. An NBA statement explained, “While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.”
The league and its players are also known for speaking publicly about social issues, including the #BlackLivesMatter movement, police brutality, and gun violence. Back in 2012, the Miami Heat released a picture of the team wearing hoodies in the wake of the death of teenager Trayvon Martin. Players like Lebron James, Derrick Rose, and Kobe Bryant made a statement again in 2014 with their “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, after the death of Eric Garner in New York.
Weeks ago, WNBA players were fined for “violating uniform policy” for wearing black shirts in the wake of recent shootings by police. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony backed them up, but Silver was part of the crew that implemented the fines in the first place. The wholehearted support wasn’t shown in this case, instead stating, “I am absolutely in favor of players speaking out and speaking from the heart about whatever issues are important to them. My preference would be that players adhere to our uniform rules, both in the N.B.A. and the W.N.B.A. I would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they’re given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known.” One would say this is a contradiction, since Silver used next year’s All-Star game to make a statement.
The NBA was the first league to hire a woman as full-time referee, hire a woman as an assistant coach, and to have a woman serve as the executive director of its player’s association. Its brilliant marketing strategies are all about inclusion and innovation- especially through the use of social media and advertising. The NBA and WNBA have teamed up to participate in #LeanInTogether, a public service campaign that calls for women’s equality through LeanIn.Org.
So now the question is, when will other professional leagues catch up? Historically, the NFL has been the league with the highest popularity amongst viewers, attendance, and merchandising, but the tides are changing. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) releases annual racial and gender report cards for both college and professional sports. In 2015, the NBA received an A+ in racial hiring practices and a B+ in gender. This was the highest amongst all men’s sports. The NFL and MLB both scored A’s in the racial category, but C’s when it comes to gender.
These numbers don’t mean that other leagues aren’t trying to improve the look of the clubhouse. The NFL took a step in the right direction by hiring Dawn Hudson as its Chief Marketing Officer in 2014, following criticism of the league’s handling of domestic violence cases. Her first task was advertising for the Super Bowl and she rose to the occasion with the “No More” public service announcements. Just last year, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as a special teams coach and the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as a preseason coach and intern. In the same right, Major League Baseball has Kim Ng as a Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations. These hires are undoubtedly important and are signs of growth in the future.
The NBA is the only league where the average age of viewers hasn’t increased, largely due to the “Basketball Twitter” community that every other sports league lacks. The NFL and MLB are having a difficult time with building a younger fanbase, but for different reasons. For pro football, the new methods of marketing to children appear to be harmful, since it encourages sitting in place rather than going outside and playing. A report released by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood cites the serious consequences of “sedentary screen time, exposure to junk-food marketing, loss of valuable instructional time in school, encouraging gambling behaviors, and exposure to the league’s off-the-field controversies,” to name a few. The problem with baseball is the lack of kids wanting to play at a young age. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to change this by giving more exposure to Little League teams by teaming up with ESPN to televise the Little League World Series and more exhibition games. Neither the NFL nor the MLB have as strong of a social media community as the NBA. Putting more effort into Twitter accounts could be a solution to their problems, and lack of progressiveness.
Moving the All-Star game out of Charlotte was one of many decisions that makes the NBA the powerhouse it has become. Although it will definitely hurt the city economically and socially, the league isn’t budging. Their intolerance towards discrimination is what will continue to keep them at the top of the popularity contest in the end.
The forward-thinking leadership of both Barack Obama and Adam Silver have improved their respective domains, but they are only two needles in a haystack of convention. As the country and the league progress, it will be necessary to continue to find men–and women– like them to lead the way for future presidents and commissioners.
Kayla Solomon is a new contributor to AllSportsEverything.com. She attends Temple University for nine months out of the year, but will be here in New York all summer! Follow Kayla on Twitter at @dontKAYme, Instagram at @kayla_nyree. Also, find her writing weekly on blackaphillyated.com and on her personal blog, dearfuturekay.wordpress.com.
Photo via Washington Times.