- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

TORONTO — No one’s life is on the line, and no one is obfuscating the issue or considering lying about it the way they have in the past.

That is the harshest difference between the state of the league addresses put forth by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in recent weeks. Silver met with dozens of reporters on Saturday at the NBA’s all-star weekend in Toronto. Goodell took combative questions 10 days ago, before Super Bowl 50.

The contrast in league direction and concerns could not be more stark.
During his time taking questions, Silver laughed with a reporter when discussing the bone-cracking cold of Toronto.

“Stop complaining,” said Silver, after pointing out the events were held indoors.

The eye-rolling takeaway from Goodell’s press conference came after he clumsily compared the injury possibilities in football to those that could come while relaxing at home.


SEE ALSO: Adam Silver: League will not change ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ rule this season


“There’s risks in life,” Goodell said. “There’s risks to sitting on the couch.”

Goodell’s couch comment came after he was asked about the deaths of seven high school football players this past season. He began to explain that the league has invested in working with USA Football, teaching a heads-up form of tackling that tries to clear a player’s head when making contact. Goodell said he would want his son to play football for the “values” he would receive from the sport. Then, he bumbled into the couch comment.

The NBA will never have the physical contact issues associated with the NFL, but it was once the league under fire, a place perceived as home to drug abusers and out-of-control players in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, among others, are often lauded for pulling the league out of that muck-filled reputation. Former commissioner David Stern receives proper credit for disarming the wrestling-match style the game adopted in the 1990s.

Today, Silver oversees a flowing operation that causes him to boast about its social media following. The NBA recently cracked 1 billion social media participants. He was asked numerous times on Saturday by members of the international media when or if the All-Star Game will go overseas. A reporter from China was dejected when informed the logistics of flying to Asia for three days in the middle of the season pushed the continent behind Europe for consideration. A reporter from India asked how the NBA would expand its reach there. Among Silver’s complications was that he could not make everyone happy because he did not have solutions to bring the game to the places asking for it.

The safety issue he discussed Saturday night stemmed from his concern about players jumping on the backs of other players to intentionally foul. He warned the act may be deemed a flagrant foul by referees when the season resumes. Among the topics Goodell was asked about were investigations into cheating, a star wide receiver retiring at 30 years old, the league’s off-field discipline policies, its drug policy and the horrid ratings for the Pro Bowl.

The NBA and NFL are grappling for America’s young athletes in a way they have not been before. Recognizing it has an image problem, and that the image problem could undermine its future, the NFL has reached to the youth levels and beyond in attempts to sustain its cultural dominance.

During Washington Redskins training camp, former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley spoke at a “a free football clinic for 150 Richmond-area moms” held on a suburban golf course. The Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and USA Football partnered for the event. Cooley was entertaining and compelling when he spoke to the mothers, recounting his youth football days in Utah and rise to the NFL. He talked about the merits of football, how it helps develop trust among young people, teamwork and an ability to work through setbacks.

Among the questions from the assembled moms were how their sons, or in one case, a daughter, could handle criticism from opposing parents. Cooley was asked what his mom said to help guide him: If their child would be better served sitting on the bench of a better team versus playing more at a lower level. At one point, Cooley asked the mothers to raise their hand if they were concerned about safety, specifically concussions. All the hands went up.

That’s why the NFL has a marketing campaign touting “Football Is Family” and moms are learning tackling techniques from a USA Football-assigned instructor at a golf course. The league knows its reputation may be whittling away at its feeder system.

Meanwhile, Silver is bragging about the more than 100 NBA veterans at all-star weekend. Their knees may be sore, but their money was guaranteed and their brains were not risked during their careers.

The league is also a more inclusive media entity. Internet-only media pervades NBA press boxes more so than any other professional sports league. That happened in part because of the NFL’s dominance. The other leagues needed whatever coverage they could acquire as football became the nation’s sports behemoth. Those early invites have given it a digital leg up among the next generation of fans and participants.

The NBA is not perfect. It will also never have the maniacal pull of a 16-game regular-season schedule. But, the increasing riches, rising exposure and international demand for its product run counter to what the NFL is experiencing.

Just ask the commissioners.

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