Archive for Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Commentary: NBA’s image more fragile than NFL’s

Public, media overwhelmingly direct outrage at basketball’s bad boys, not football’s

December 19, 2006

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— The guess here is David Stern weighs about 170 pounds. But he hits like a linebacker.

When the Commish lays the smackdown on you, you feel it. He took $3.5 million from the Timberwolves in 2000 after determining they had tried to circumvent the salary cap. He popped Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for $500,000 for criticizing referees in 2002.

And Monday, Stern leveled Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony - the league's leading scorer and one of the game's brightest young stars. Stern suspended him for 15 games for throwing a punch at the Knicks' Mardy Collins during Saturday night's brawl between the Nuggets and New York at Madison Square Garden.

But during Stern's conference call Monday, the most important question asked had nothing to do with Saturday's fight. Someone asked Stern how he felt about the perception that an incident involving his NBA players seems to affect their image more harshly than incidents involving players in other sports.

"I think that's a conversation that I will delicately sidestep for another day," he said.

Fine. Give me the bat.

Why is the NBA held to a different standard than the NFL?

Why was Saturday's fight, which was a bad deal, also supposedly evidentiary of a bigger alleged truth - namely, that NBA players are thugs and not worth your support? Meanwhile, NFL players have been going to jail at an alarming rate this season, with not nearly as much outrage from the public, or from the media.

Actually, let me amend that.

There's been no outrage from the public, or the media.

The brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich., between the Pistons and Pacers and fans was two years ago, yet it seems to be stuck in the public's craw like a swollen piece of mutton. The NBA can't seem to get past it. A guy on a radio show in Los Angeles I was on Monday had a theory as to why, and it's as good an explanation as any.

Who got away with the most stuff in high school? he asked. The football players, he answered.

"Nothing's changed," he said.

The following is a brief list of charges filed against NFL players in the last 12 months: driving while intoxicated, resisting arrest, boating under the influence, unlawful transaction with a minor, speeding, felony possession of a concealed firearm, possession of marijuana, spousal battery, burglary, grand theft.

And that's just the Bengals.

Eight Cincinnati players have been arrested since last December. Eight.

The NFL keeps saying it's just a handful of isolated incidents, and most everybody buys it. But the NBA has the problem with the red states, as someone famously put it a couple of years ago. And this doesn't seem to be about race; almost all of the NFL players who've been arrested are African American.

But because they wear shoulder pads instead of knee pads, they get a pass.

A few voices have highlighted the issue for months. But for the most part, there's been silence. No gnashing of teeth.

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