NFL's Fumbles Become the NBA's Layups
Adam Silver has spent his first year as National Basketball Association Commissioner trying to separate himself from the pack in almost every way.
His handling of the Donald Sterling fiasco signaled a clear break from his predecessor, David Stern, under whom Sterling's well-known racism went largely overlooked. Silver's recent embrace of the inevitability of legalized sports gambling is a major shift away from the position long held by the NBA as well as the other major sports leagues.
Now, with his first disciplinary action against a player in a domestic violence case, Silver is letting you know: The NBA is not the NFL.
On Thursday, the league suspended Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor for 24 games; Taylor pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence last month. The suspension will retroactively include the 11 games he's missed on paid leave, so he'll miss the next 13 contests and be fined the full 24 games' worth of his salary. It's the longest suspension the NBA has ever handed down for domestic violence. (For reference, a 24-game penalty in the NBA amounts to about five games in the NFL, which has a much shorter season.)
In his statement explaining the decision, Silver took several thinly veiled shots at the NFL, contrasting the NBA's disciplinary process with the opaque actions of football's commissioner, Roger Goodell, in his handling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases. Upon Taylor's arrest in September, noted Silver, "the NBA immediately commenced its own independent investigation into the incident." Taylor was also immediately placed on paid leave. The league conducted "separate interviews" with Taylor and the alleged victim, and Silver "received guidance from a group of domestic violence experts." Finally, Silver acknowledged that while the suspension is unprecedented in length, it is in keeping with "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."
The statement reads as a veritable checklist of lessons learned from Goodell's mistakes: Failing, either willfully or otherwise, to properly investigate Ray Rice; leaving Adrian Peterson's playing status up in the air while looking into his child abuse case; interviewing Ray and Janay Rice together in the initial investigation; consulting no women or domestic violence experts before making his ruling on Ray Rice; and coming down far too leniently on him based on the league's past history of soft discipline for domestic violence.
It should be noted that Silver is also further separating himself from Stern's legacy. Deadspin's Kevin Draper points us to a post by NBA blogger Aaron McGuire, who lists 10 domestic violence cases against NBA players in the last four years that resulted in no penalties from the league. Two of those cases -- involving Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham in April and Memphis Grizzlies forward James Johnson in June -- came under Silver's watch. (Former number-one draft pick Greg Oden was also arrested for domestic violence back in August, but his status as an unsigned free agent has thus far spared Silver having to make a decision on his case.)
In other words, Silver has been equal parts smart and lucky. He's lucky that nobody noticed the NBA's borderline-nonexistent record of punishing players for violent crimes before the NFL took on that dubious spotlight. He's smart for listening to the valid criticisms of everything that Goodell did wrong and trying to do exactly the opposite. Take a look at the headlines surrounding the Taylor suspension today, and you'll see how Silver is "sending a message" and directly "contrasting the NFL." The NBA's messaging has worked.
This appears to be a precedent-setting move after Silver promised to assess the league's domestic violence policy. Under the NBA's personal conduct rules, a conviction for a violent felony results in a 10-game suspension, but the policy doesn't specifically address domestic violence. The National Basketball Players' Association has yet to comment, but is weighing its options as far as appealing on Taylor's behalf. The union could have a strong case, arguing that Taylor's punishment for a misdemeanor is more than twice the length of the collectively bargained penalty for a felony.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. After all, the one area in which Silver seems to be just like any other commissioner is his desire to quell the union.
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