By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) League commissioners tend to be only noticeable during their respective game’s most controversial of times. Essentially that is why they have a job. Anybody can rule during peacetime.
Name the Major League Baseball commissioner-elect. Go ahead. Oh, you just remembered that Bud Selig is retiring in January 2015, didn’t you? And now you feel dumb yet strangely comforted, just as I was today when I remembered Selig will soon be out of my life forever (I hope).
Roger Goodell is so omnipresent in our lives because a) the NFL is a 365-day league and b) a week can’t go by without a pro football player doing something that outrages many of us. Besides him, though, commissioners are largely out of our conscious sports-consuming experience, which I won’t argue is a bad thing. When I’m watching a game, I’m not thinking, “What’s going through Gary Bettman’s vampiric head right now?” (Shudders.)
Adam Silver of the NBA has been breaking from the orthodox and throwing a few no-look passes (that’s basketball terminology) since taking over for the Napoleonic David Stern this past February. There is a proactive nature to Silver rather than the typical reactive, and so far it seems like the NBA is being run by a competent, progressive honcho hell-bent on logical administrative steps for his league. Which is to say, not just a judge-jury-executioner who answers to team owners. Or a bumbling Doc Brown-like experimentalist. Or a muppet who has broken multiple times something that didn’t really need fixing.
The latest example is Silver’s handling of Charlotte Hornet Jeffery Taylor’s domestic violence incident. Silver gave Taylor a 24-game suspension. And in doing so, he wrote, “While the suspension is significantly longer than prior suspensions for incidents of domestic violence by NBA players, it is appropriate in light of Mr. Taylor’s conduct, the need to deter similar conduct going forward and the evolving social consensus — with which we fully concur — that professional sports leagues like the NBA must respond to such incidents in a more rigorous way.”
Know what that says? “I ain’t the ham-fisted Roger Goodell and the public relations sinkhole that is the NFL right now.” It also leaves little room for debate. While I side with Goodell (shudders again) on the Adrian Peterson decision, I understand an argument can be made about athlete’s rights and collective bargaining and commissioner power run amok in that case (and why Ray Rice has a solid chance of winning his appeal). There are very few complaints bubbling up about the Taylor suspension, though, save for the NBAPA’s duty to appeal on Taylor’s behalf. Also, few people — much fewer than when the Peterson story first came out — are running to defend Dwight Howard, who might be advised to start some serious sweating right about now.
Silver’s actions come less than a week after he wrote a piece in The New York Times on how sports gambling needs legalization. Where the other major pro leagues adjust their neckties at the mention of gambling and mumble about morality and ethics and integrity of the game — while heavily relying on fantasy sports where money never, ever changes hands and TV ratings that aren’t impacted whatsoever by people worried about point spreads — Silver is pointing out the elephant in the room. (While also sugarcoating it with a mention of “integrity of the game.”) He knows there isn’t a logical argument devoid of all religious and think-of-the-children pathos to be made against sports gambling, and acknowledging that only adds to his integrity.
Then of course, there’s Silver’s bold decision amid the Donald Sterling mess that is argued against only by bigots or those who fly “Don’t tread on me” flags from their homes. Reactionary as it was (who can plan for an owner being recorded by an angry mistress and saying such insanity?), it set a tone for Silver’s commissionership going forward, and it made these more recent choices and words from him all the less surprising.
Adam Silver isn’t Bud Selig throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks, changing aspects of the game and seasons just to see what happens while trying not to trip over his own shoelaces. Silver isn’t Gary Bettman, whose progressive stance on homophobic sports culture is incredibly admirable and important but not enough to wipe all the egg off his face from a tenure marred by labor strife, failed franchises and shootouts.
Is Silver perfect or even maybe a really good guy? Hell no. But really good guys make for bad commissioners. Forward-thinking ones, on the other hand, do well to get their names remembered for the right reasons.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.