When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the new NFL guidelines regarding domestic violence, many hailed the move as “progress.” When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the league will be suspending Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and moving to take the team away from him, players and fans alike greeted the move with praise.
While on the surface these are both common sense moves that are long overdue, the transparent attempts of the two commissioners to shield themselves from further embarrassment reeks of self-preservation.
Action is important but intent is key.
Roger Goodell did not create a new domestic violence policy out of some benevolent epiphany, he created it because he was embarrassed about the bad press his personal brand endured after one lax domestic violence suspension in a long line of lax domestic violence suspensions. Hell, Goodell had the power to suspend Rice for as long as he wanted to before this new policy.
Adam Silver did not push to kick Donald Sterling out of the league in some benevolent gesture in the face of blatant racism, he did so after one incident in a long line of incidents embarrassed his league in his first months at the helm.
All this isn’t to say players who assault women or owners oozing of racism shouldn’t be hit with everything the league can muster. But while fans reacted in genuine outrage to the Ray Rice and Donald Sterling incidents, the commissioners of their respective leagues acted far too late and only out of personal embarrassment.
Goodell will get no praise from me after he did next to nothing when players like Ray Rice now or players like Chad Johnson before them violently assaulted their girlfriends/wives.
Silver will get no praise from me for expelling an owner who had a long history of even worse actions and remarks than the one he was banned for.
The suspensions and bans, in and of themselves, are not just right but overdue. It’s the intent that sets a dangerous precedent.
Not only did Roger Goodell institute the new domestic violence policy, he did so without seemingly any input from the players association.
Not only did Adam Silver ban Donald Sterling, but the NBA basically screwed him out of the right to even claim the team as his own when he tried to defend himself.
Right now, this kind of unilateral action seems okay by most of us. We don’t have much sympathy for Sterling, nor should we. We don’t have much sympathy for Greg Hardy and any other player that now has to face a harsher penalty than if they had been punished a week earlier, nor should we.
It’s all well and good when commissioners’ actions fall in line with public opinion but history has proven that that’s not always the case.
Look no further than the Josh Gordon suspension, which at least falls within the collective bargaining agreement. Here’s a young guy who is suspended for an entire season for something the president, 75 percent of players, and 70 percent of Americans believe to be less harmful than alcohol.
Look no further than Terrelle Pryor’s suspension in 2011 for something he did while he was in college and was already punished for.
Look no further than Pete Rose’s suspension from baseball which, despite 81 percent of fans believing the ban should be overturned, is still keeping the greatest hitter in baseball history out of the Hall of Fame 25 years later.
Commissioners are on the right side of history, until they aren’t. Because of the way that Silver and especially Goodell have acted since taking the reins, acting to protect their personal brand rather than with the true intention of making the league and the sport better, it’s only a matter of time until the currently-praised actions directed at all the right people turn to much-criticized moves directed at all the wrong ones.