More often than not, sports leagues talk the talk when it comes to taking important stands on political issues and advocacy, but never truly walks the walk. Adam Silver's NBA has walked the walked since he took over for David Stern. While the episode with Donald Sterling certainly forced his hand, his response to it showed the gumption of a man that would be willing to take bold stances when not only required, but when he could put his league at the cutting edge of a discussion more leagues should be having: with their enormous financial muscle, they can influence key political decisions.
Taking away Charlotte's NBA All-Star Game next February, and the $100 million that would have gone to the state of North Carolina with it, is a stance that no sports commissioner in this country has taken voluntarily before. It is a public sign that the NBA doesn't stand for discrimination against a group of vulnerable individuals, and they won't just say they don't stand for it, they'll prove it. Most every league and team pays lip service to the LGBT community by having pride nights, working with organizations like You Can Play, etc. and those are good first steps. But, having realized that his league is in a position of power, not acquiescence, he made his move and subsequently set a precedent that other leagues will have to follow.
In today's climate of outrageous partisan division and little respect for those with different beliefs, some would say that it makes sense for a sports league, an entertainment product first and foremost, to stay just that to be the escape mechanism that many need to get away from all of the poisonous news there is. But with these leagues making the money that they do, much of that coming from public subsidies for the arenas/stadiums the league's teams play in, they have as much of a right to make a political stand as actors, musicians and other artists have had for years. Sports, in that they are entertainment and an escape, are no different to any of the other forms of entertainment and art that have existed for centuries, and therefore they have a right to take a political stand on issues they deem important.
Usually, these leagues only make decisions like this under immense external pressure. The NFL took Super Bowl 27 out of Arizona for not recognizing Martin Luther King day, under forceful pressure from the watching world. AFL players attending the 1965 AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans, after being ruthlessly discriminated against in the lead up to the game, decided to boycott the game and forced it to be moved to Houston. Athletes and sports leagues sometimes forget to realize the immense power they wield to influence change, but in 2016 that seems to be changing.
Whatever your beliefs on North Carolina's NC2 law are (it's pretty easy to tell what this writer thinks), what the NBA is doing here is unprecedented. Bands can take their concerts out of cities, states, etc. for political reasons, but they are just one band of many. All-star week in every sport is a major financial and perception boon for these cities, and attract all kinds of tourists, businesses, etc. to these towns that may not otherwise come. The NBA has decided that it is bad for its business (and the many businesses that rely on them) to have a showcase for itself played in a state that has a discriminatory law on its books. Paying lip service to the idea of taking away Charlotte's All-Star Game is one thing, and many would accuse those statements of being a leverage play, but Adam Silver wasn't bluffing.
Cities looking to pick up the relocated festivities include Chicago, New York and New Orleans. Louisiana recently passed laws against LGBT discrimination in public workplaces, a stark contrast to what North Carolina has been doing, and the states aren't all that dissimilar politically. Under pressure from other businesses and groups, the governors of Indiana and Georgia either changed or rejected similar to ones that North Carolina's governor Pat McCrory is steadfastly behind. Sports leagues, as incredibly powerful businesses themselves, have immense power to influence change where they want to but often times they play coy or put themselves in the middle so as to not alienate anyone, which now seems out of date and out of touch.
Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred, Don Garber and many other men have a tough act to follow and a tough precedent to meet that has now been set by Adam Silver. They, like Silver, run immensely profitable and powerful businesses that have the ability to impact meaningful change for the states and country they do business in. For their many missteps with regards to issues like this(as the WNBA has fined teams for wearing shirts with protest messages on them during warm-ups, a decidedly more nuanced issue than this one), these leagues can earn good will and good press by taking these stands. Many have clamored for them to do so for years.
In a year in which there has been too much negativity, Adam Silver's NBA answered that long waiting bell. He should be applauded and celebrated for it.