NFL and NBA commissioners have each faced member conduct challenges in 2014
Adam Silver took over the NBA and immediately faced the Sterling crisis
Roger Goodell has been the NFL boss for eight years.
There's a growing chorus calling for Goodell's resignation
If Adam Silver were commissioner of the NFL, would running back Ray Rice have already been banned from the league? And if Roger Goodell were in charge of the NBA, would Donald Sterling still be the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers?
What-ifs and role reversals can make your head spin.
What we have are two leagues and two vastly different responses to separate hot-button issues: racism and domestic violence.
Silver had little time to settle into his new job. He took over from longtime NBA commissioner David Stern on February 1, and by late April, he was already embroiled in the Sterling controversy.
Even with the short break-in period, Silver won rave reviews.
He earned them by acting swiftly, sending investigators to Los Angeles to confirm it was Sterling who made racist comments on an audio recording obtained by TMZ.
Within days, Silver acted, banning the Clippers owner for life, fining him $2.5 million and initiating proceedings to terminate Sterling’s ownership rights.
It wasn’t easy, but Silver held firm.
Sterling went back and forth about selling the team, and made additional reprehensible comments, some in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
In it, Sterling repeatedly apologized and denied accusations that he’s racist, saying he’d been “baited” into making what he called “terrible” remarks.
Still, in the interview, Sterling continued attacks on former NBA great Magic Johnson. In it, he questioned the character of the former Los Angeles Lakers player and his battle with HIV, saying Johnson hasn’t done anything to help others.
But Johnson shrugged it off, saying he feels sorry for the billionaire and will pray for him.
In the end, Silver’s actions were seen as decisive and unflinching. Players, team owners and civil rights advocates applauded him.
“There’s no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA,” LeBron James said before a game in April. “There is no room for him.”
“This attack on Magic is crazy,” filmmaker Spike Lee told Cooper after the interview. “He’s messing with the wrong brother. Magic is loved by everybody around the world. And the talk about some other stuff that has nothing to do with nothing is ridiculous.”
Sterling asked: What has Magic Johnson done? Answer: Quite a lot
There was some criticism, like why did it take the NBA so long to get rid of Sterling when he had been accused of racism several times in the past.
In 2009 he settled – while admitting no liability – three lawsuits tied to discrimination claims at apartments he owned in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Times reported. He also settled a 2003 lawsuit that claimed he wouldn’t rent to Latinos, the Times reported.
Sterling also was sued in 2009 by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who said he was a victim of age and racial discrimination. Baylor dropped the race claim and a jury ruled in Sterling’s favor.
Bobbling the ball
Now compare that with Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice case. Critics say he fumbled it from the start.
It was TMZ again with the damning evidence. Security camera video showed the former Baltimore Raven dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer – then his fiancee – out of an elevator.
That was back in February, at the beginning of the off-season. The couple married in March.
It would be several months before Goodell interviewed Rice and his wife. And when he did, the two were reportedly in the room together.
Another month passed before Goodell gave Rice a two-game suspension, and that didn’t sit well with many people. Goodell insisted it was consistent with other cases.
Eventually, Goodell admitted that it was a mistake and drew up new domestic violence policy with harsher penalties that were a reaction to the criticism.
The harshest blow to Goodell’s handling of the case came this week when TMZ released another video that showed Rice throwing the punches that knocked out Palmer.
The Baltimore Ravens dropped him from the team, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
NFL chief Roger Goodell faces intense criticism
Taking the hits
Critics want to know why a tougher punished wasn’t handed out sooner.
“I didn’t get it right,” said Goodell. “Simply put, we have to do better.”
The National Organization for Women thinks so. NOW is calling for Goodell’s resignation.
“The NFL has lost its way,” said a statement released late Tuesday by NOW President Terry O’Neill. “It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.”
NOW also noted Goodell’s silence on the Jerry Jones lawsuit. A former exotic dancer sued the Dallas Cowboys owner this week, accusing him of sexual assault.
An attorney for the team called the allegations “completely false.”
Adding to the chorus against Goodell is outspoken ESPN personality Keith Olbermann. He called Goodell an “enabler of men who beat women” and demanded the commissioner resign or be fired.
San Francisco Chronicle sport columnist Ann Killion agreed.
“Roger Goodell should follow Rice out the door – his leadership has no integrity and no longer can be trusted by the public. He should resign,” she wrote.
In the reactions to the two cases, perhaps there’s a lesson in how the NBA and NFL handled them.
Much like on the court or on the field, a decisive hand running the team can blunt much of the criticism.