Accepting the League of the Year honor at Wednesday night’s Sports Business Awards, NBA commissioner Adam Silver offered a clear message to the industry figures in attendance: Don’t stick to sports.
“There’s never been a time when sports has been more impactful on society than it is today,” Silver said, as captured by Sports Business Journal. “And whether it’s issues affecting race and gender, health, mental wellness or technology and media, what we all do in this room matters day in and day out. And finally, I encourage all of you not to stick to sports. Do not stick to sports. Embrace it, celebrate it, and let’s all use it to build bridges and bring people together.”
The debate over whether athletes, coaches, media and leagues should or shouldn’t “stick to sports” has become increasingly relevant in recent years as football players have protested during the national anthem, basketball coaches have slammed Donald Trump and players across all sports have begun to spoke up about issues that are important to them. These days it often seems as those the sports world is divided between people who believe sports can have a transformative effect on society at large and those who want their games entirely free of politics and social issues
It’s not exactly shocking that Silver believes in using sports to talk about broader issues, given his track record as commissioner. The NBA has embraced social justice more than most of its competitors, with anti-gun violence ads and LGBTQ pride floats and a greater tolerance for player expression than, say, the NFL.
Still, it’s somewhat remarkable to see a league commissioner use the phrase “stick to sports,” given how loaded those words have become. The fact that Silver is willing use them so bluntly shows how different today’s sports landscape is from that of 10 or 20 years ago, when politics were almost entirely verboten, as well as how resolutely the commissioner believes in the power sports hold over society.