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Ball Don't Lie

David Stern hurls a careful barb at the IOC’s handling of Russia’s anti-gay laws

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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David Stern with Brittney Griver, the top draft pick in the 2013 WNBA draft (Getty Images)

The NBA, manned by David Stern for nearly 30 years, has long been far ahead of the sporting field when it comes to LGBT rights. The league embraced anti-discrimination laws within its ranks, it doles out massive fines to its players when they’re caught using homophobic slurs, and if journeyman center Jason Collins receives a contract offer for the 2013-14 season, he’ll be the first openly gay active player in the four major North America sports.

The sporting community is facing widespread criticism for embracing Russia – home of several prohibitive anti-gay laws and widespread violence against homosexuals – and its hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Though a massive boycott likely won’t take hold between now and the lighting of the torch, many are hoping that the exposure that could stem from shining a light on Russian President Vladimir Putin would encourage real change. Even if it got in the way of the Olympics’ apparent right to print money.

Speaking earlier this week at the Beyond Sport Summit, Stern somewhat spoke out against the seeming indifference to the laws by the International Olympic Committee. Via BuzzFeed, from Justin Klugh at Philly.com:

“I’m gonna behave myself, for the record here, which is unlike me,” NBA commissioner David Stern said Wednesday, speaking as part of a panel that included Ed Rendell and was moderated by ESPN anchor and Philly native Kevin Negandhi. “But you know, the first phone call to the new head of the Olympics [was] from President [Vladimir] Putin, and everyone wants to talk about the Russian law on homosexuality.

“Think about the opportunities that sports have to make a continuing statement, and the only thing that we’re saying in that context is ‘Shhhh! No one say anything!’”

I very much appreciate Stern’s instincts, his words, and his attitudes in this realm with the league he’s done fine work with for nearly three decades. Caveats abound, though.

It’s easy for Stern to stand aside and hurl barbs. Perhaps this is my cynicism shining through, considering a commissioner that nearly crippled an entire season to as to secure further profits for his millionaire and sometimes billionaire owners at the expense of thousands of less-fortunate North American workers that make their money off of the NBA having games to participate in, but I doubt very much David Stern would have the same reaction if Sochi were hosting a Summer Olympics. A Summer Olympics that would welcome participation from Stern’s NBA pros.

Would David Stern stand in the way of his shoe company-heeled, moneymaking machine (helmed by executives like Jerry Colangelo that are, shall we say, hardly what we’d call “progressive” politically; as if this were a political cause in the first place) heading to the Olympics in a host country that features laws he doesn’t agree with? Considering that Stern didn’t blink before sending his shoe-sellers to China (home of rampant human rights violations) in 2008, that’s a hard sell for me.

Stern gets to have it both ways, here, which is fine for him, I’m sure. I really wish he’d follow his own advice and take less of a passive/aggressive “stand” here, and actually try to wield a tangible, positive influence on this particular subject in his final days as NBA commissioner.

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