Biz Blitz: What if there is a Donald Sterling in the NFL? The wrath of Roger.

The Bottom Line: It’s always better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Fresh from the Richie Incognito scandal, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must have winced when he heard the details of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s conversation with his hot ex-girlfriend.

(Wait, WHAT? Sterling said that to his African-Mexican-American BFF? How clueless can an old man get?)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his NFL and MLB cohorts confront a management stinker thanks to Sterling’s incredibly poor judgment.

We all have our foibles. Don’t deny yours as you condemn LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Are we sure that one or two NFL owners do not share Sterling’s attitudes about black people (aka Magic Johnson) or others in the 99 percent?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must be worried about that. He added the Sterling scandal to the May 2014 owner’s meeting agenda.

Football isn’t life, but it is life in microcosm. Sports fans expect violations of social contracts to be dealt with swiftly.

Biz Blitz deals with management, not microcosm. Leagues are not governments. Commissioners are not jurists. They cannot be arbitrary for the sake of poetic justice. Contracts rule NFL owners and Goodell as they do Sterling and the NBA.

The contract that applies here is the mysterious NFL owner’s agreement with the league. We don’t know what’s in it.

Whatever is there gives the commissioner authority to do something up to the limit set by the owners.  When owners steps into a mess, they hide behind the commissioner who is constrained by that agreement. They can only go so far.

Goodell has made clear that executives and owners are subject to the same conduct policies that apply to players under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

  • The NFL fined Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand $100,000 and suspended him for 30 days for driving while impaired in 2010.
  • Colts owner Jim Irsay faces sanctions following an arrest on similar charges last March.
  • The NFL fined Bill Belichick $500,000 and the New England Patriots $250,000 for the 2007 Spygate scandal. The Pats forfeit their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. (Big whoop. The Pats had two first-round picks that year. They lost their own No. 31 overall pick, but exercised the 10th overall received from the Saints to draft LB Jerod Mayo.)
  • The NFL suspended Saints GM Mickey Loomis and coaches Sean Payton, Joe Vitt and Gregg Williams for the Bountygate scandal.

Sports commissioners play a delicate balancing act. They must appease the mob while pleasing owners who understand that his rulings might be applied to them if, you know, their most private thoughts become public.

Sterling’s emotional rant is more than bad press. It’s bad business and incredibly bad management. If he owned an NFL franchise, he would hear something like this at the May owner’s meeting.

America, every nation really, is super-sensitive when it comes to race. Owners should be, too.

Discussing it is a no-win proposition when you own a business that every fan thinks you hold it in trust for them. Disgruntled millionaire NFL and NBA players are already inclined to compare themselves to slaves. Donald Sterling gives life to the accusation and now it taints every big league owner in every sport.

Be as smart as you expect your star quarterbacks to be when dealing with their hot girlfriends.

The NFL makes new players listen to this advice at the annual Rookie Symposium. Need I say more?

Don’t harm the shield

It’s football (and basketball). Your big money-makers are African Americans. You reveal your attitude about your employees with every interaction. What they sense affects how they play. How they play affects the product on the field. An owner misstep can kill product value faster than any single player can.

Sterling’s thoughtless comments is surely no surprise to Clippers players, but now it’s impossible for them to ignore. The Clippers product suffers in how they compete. As a result, the team’s value has been diminished.

Owners build the league and feather the nest. Players lay the golden eggs.

Mixed-gender metaphor, males don’t lay eggs, but you get the point. Players and owners need each other. Condescending attitudes that choke the NFL money-machine are not allowed. It’s as simple as that. “People are our only asset,” means more in sports than in any other industry. It is a poor executive who holds such notions about people that are making him rich.

Jonathan Martin in reverse

Donald Sterling is the flip side example of Miami’s Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, and John Jerry scandal. The Dolphins players had a narrow idea of who belonged. Jerry and Pouncey apparently saw Incognito as more authentically black than Jonathan Martin. Everyone could see the absurdity of that, or so we thought.

It’s America. Everybody belongs. Fans expect sports to live up to that credo. If you must be caught by hidden microphones, be caught saying that.

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.