By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
During the NBA All-Star weekend an interesting report emerged from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne stating that a confidant of an NFL owner had reached out to NBA commissioner Adam Silver about his considering the same position for the NFL.
The discussion is said to have occurred before the league re-signed current commissioner Roger Goodell to a five-year extension worth up to $200 million in December 2017. Silver has since denied any interest he had in the NFL and is currently under contract until 2023-24 thanks to a new extension he signed in June.
I am not surprised by the supposed gesture by or on behalf of the owners of the most profitable professional sports league simply because Silver in his sport has something that Goodell does not have: a true understanding of social justice and its application to their employees.
When I say a true understanding of social justice, we cannot fully apply the concept of lack of knowledge to commissioner Goodell. Since serving as the NFL’s steward in 2006, he has worked on behalf of the league to support various charities and foundations.
Goodell has also assisted in creating a social justice initiative between the players association and league owners to improve racial inequality and social injustice within their respective communities. However, we cannot dismiss how selectively the league can align itself with causes of social justice, meaning the NFL most typically supports social justice narratives that it can benefit from and in contexts that best suits its marketability to the American public.
Domestic violence is a universal problem that athletes can often times find themselves wrapped up in, especially within the NFL. Many players have received multiple chances in the league after being accused of such violence and some even guilty of it and other violent charges in the courts.
Former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested multiple times for domestic abuse, yet he was claimed by the Redskins. Former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt lied to his team about a domestic abuse dispute that had viral footage, yet he is now a member of the Browns.
But when it came to the peaceful protests spearheaded by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid in the name creating social awareness against social injustices within various communities of color, Goodell failed to support his employees when public response to their actions was fractured. Goodell showed no leadership within a 2-year PR nightmare that led to a costly settlement his league was just ruled against versus Kaepernick and Reid regarding believed acts of collusion to keep the pair of former San Francisco 49ers out of the league.
We also cannot overlook how Goodell dismissed for years the affects of CTE and permanent brain damage and ignored the importance of long-term health post-retirement for players, an initiative that Hall of Famers took to Goodell to fix and apply. Yet, while all of this is going on, he has increased league revenue from $6 billion to $13 billion over a 10-year span with hardly any diversity, especially African-American representation, established within in the front office and ownership.
Goodell’s social justice initiatives have been selective and inconsistent. Commissioner Silver on the other hand has a more holistic and effective approach to such matters.
Silver has established himself as a proponent of social justice and engagement and has worked with NBA owners and players to not just promote such things, but has allow athletes to be themselves in using their publicized platforms to discuss their issues on a daily basis.
When former Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s most racist comments and actions became public, Silver worked with the players association and on behalf of the league’s owners to strip Sterling of his ownership. When dramatic police killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner took place and instigated personal statements by NBA players Silver supported their expressions online and in wearing warm-up shirts that expressed statements like “I Can’t Breathe,” — a reference to Garner’s choking death by police in New York — an initiative spearheaded by Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant among others.
Social justice issues apply to life not just in the sport athletes play, but outside of the sport as well in the communities and lives they live in permanently. At times, it can be taxing to take on these elements of public discourse.
Dr. Scott Goldman, PhD, CMPC and president-elect of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, has two embedded contracts with the NFL and two consulting contracts with the NBA. Recently he discussed with WARR the importance of creating a safe environment as a licensed clinical and sports psychiatrist for athletes to come discuss their life issues.
“Some people think being a psychiatrist is about fixing people, but it is really about being an outlet,” Goldman told me in a telephone interview. “[Sports psychology] is a full spectrum customer care service. We meet athletes where they are. We want the conversation to be fluid and flexible, and be a resource in navigating a person’s journey.”
Goldman also stated that when experiencing social justice issues and fight to become an advocate for them, often times people overlook how taxing that can be on a person’s mental state, which is why he respects athletes striving to be trailblazers for their communities.
“To be an innovator and dynamic game changer it takes courage,” Goldman said. “It is a lot harder than people think or expect. It is more stressful than people realize. I am honored to see initiatives become progressive and respect trailblazers and people that find different ways to be impactful, especially within the community.”
Silver also understands this issue, which is why this past year he and the NBPA opened a new mental health and wellness program, creating a resource that players can use to assist with mental challenges and issues.
We also cannot overlook the idea of Silver’s progressivism, starting with improving diversity efforts among front office management, coaches and ownership, opening the G-League as an outlet for a high school player to forgo college and play in a development league while being paid, as well recently proposing the NBPA to lower the lowest accepted draft age from 19 to 18, eliminating the established one-and-done rule. Other recent news has the NBA partnering with FIBA to create a new African Basketball League that will begin play in 2020.
And on top of all of that, he still increased league revenues from $4.8 billion to a projected $9.1 billion and team valuations from an average of $509 million in 2013 to $1.9 billion in Silver’s five years.
Silver is the ideal partner for a coalition of sports owners to work with and the NFL knows it. The NBA is better situated for its future than the NFL and their flirtations with Silver is proof that NFL owners know that.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR