SBD/May 1, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Adam Silver Sought Advice From Political Consultant Doug Sosnick Before Sterling Ruling

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver knew the Donald Sterling scandal was "bigger than basketball," so he wrote an e-mail to former White House adviser Doug Sosnik asking for "any suggestions," according to Ron Fournier of the NATIONAL JOURNAL. The NBA is "one of several private sector clients who pay Sosnik handsomely for his crisis-management experience in politics." He has "advised the NBA for about 10 years." Silver's handling of the "explosive situation is a textbook example of crisis management: Gather the facts, determine a strong response, build consensus among natural allies and potential rivals, and announce the decision in firm and clear language." Sosnik said, "It was real leadership." Fournier notes there are four lessons that leaders "could learn from Silver's performance." No. 1: "Don't parse your words." Silver's opening statement "included unqualified contrition and accountability ('I apologize'), along with a clear explanation of wrongdoing and response." No. 2: "Don't waste your words." Sosnik said, "People have been talked at to death. That's particularly true of young Americans; they're really looking for action. They see action as the true measure of a leader, not words." Fournier noted Silver "replied in just 83 words" to the first five questions he was asked. No. 3: "Share credit." Silver "thanked his allies, including members of a union that could have been an obstacle to his effort." No. 4: "Keep your audience focused on a mission, preferably one that calls them to a cause bigger than one's self" (NATIONALJOURNAL.com, 4/29). PR WEEK's Lindsay Stein asked eight PR experts to weigh in on how Silver "set a crisis-management standard" (PRWEEKUS.com, 4/30). In Hartford, Dan Haar looked at "8 Crisis Management Principles Adam Silver Followed Deftly" (COURANT.com, 4/30). In DC, Jena McGregor wrote Silver's actions have "brought him great credibility among the NBA's players, as well as its fans, which should help set the tone for his tenure." He offered "a rare combination of authority, candor and certainty" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 4/30). CBS Sports Network's Jim Rome said, "Silver did not just win the room, he won the Internet." YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski added, "He did something that you haven’t seen in the league in a very long time. He unified every front from owners, front office management, obviously the players" ("Rome," CBSSN, 4/30). 

PLENTY OF QUESTIONS REMAIN: An AKRON BEACON JOURNAL editorial states the NBA "hardly has been alone in looking the other way" when it came to Sterling. But Sterling "crossed the line flagrantly and most publicly, and the league has responded swiftly and appropriately to his behavior" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 5/1). But a N.Y. POST editorial states no one "in this tale comes out looking good." The NBA "now professes shock at views known for years" (N.Y. POST, 4/30). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes after a "dizzying, disquieting stretch, is it correct to rush back to business as usual?" The league has "other questions to address -- chiefly, its failure to act before on troubling accusations about Sterling." With the public "at a boil, the league was quick to throw the book." But Silver and league officials "would be foolish to consider the matter closed or decline to address the past" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/1). ESPN’s Jemele Hill said of the league's response, "This idea that the NBA deserves to get some kind of extra pat on the back, I am not so sure I can go there considering the fact that they have been the safe-haven for this thirty-year problem that is known as Donald Sterling to exist." However, she added of Silver, "He was polished, he was poised. He came there with a message that people like Donald Sterling aren’t to be tolerated in the NBA." ESPN’s Michael Smith added, “I think Adam Silver deserves every bit of praise and credit he is getting” (“Numbers Never Lie,” ESPN2, 4/30).
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