No other league compares
MLS leads with stance on homophobia
The NBA is the most progressive men's sports league in the country, hands down.
Of course, we should put that in perspective. When compared with other progressive entities in this country, no professional sports league can compete -- or even be mentioned in the same conversation, really. Sports has always been, and will likely always be, a place where women struggle to have their voices heard, and where minorities are often the players, but rarely the ones in positions of power.
That said, the NBA is doing many things right. Just look at the news coming out of the league in the past week. On Monday, the National Basketball Players Association, a union made up entirely of the league's players, elected Michele Roberts as its executive director, the first woman to hold that title in a major men's pro league. And last week, Natalie Nakase sat on the bench as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers during the Las Vegas Summer League. (Nakase's goal is to become the league's first female coach.)
Also, in 2013, the NBA received a grade of A-plus for its racial hiring practices and a B-plus for gender hiring. (Those grades, averaged, were better than the ones received by the NFL, MLB and MLS.) And, of course, there is the simple fact that last year, the NBA became the first men's pro league -- out of the Big Four; hat tip to Robbie Rogers in the MLS -- to have an openly gay player when Jason Collins finished the season with the Brooklyn Nets. In addition, the Denver Nuggets produced a video for the You Can Play Project, which works to promote diversity and inclusion in sports.
The NBA is also a place where players often feel empowered to stand up for social issues, which we saw during the Donald Sterling controversy three months ago, and when the Miami Heat posted a photo of themselves wearing hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin.
It goes without saying that the league still has a long way to go -- especially when you take a good, long look at the group of men who compose the league's ownership group -- but it's a space where, in the past few years, significant steps forward have been made.
Putting aside for the moment that, in general, "progressive pro sports league" is an oxymoron in the grandest tradition of oxymorons, it's still tough to heap too much praise on the NBA.
Although the league and new commissioner Adam Silver have rightfully been accepting congratulations since dramatically fining Donald Sterling $2.5 million and imposing a lifetime ban on the Clippers owner in April, that was still a no-brainer (no pun intended).
In fact, Sterling ultimately did the NBA a favor by finally saying something that drew enough publicity that the league could not ignore him any longer, thus making it easy to come down hard on him and shine in the court of public opinion. The fact that Sterling has been a racist for decades was apparently easy to overlook because who even paid attention to the Clippers? Still, it was an embarrassment to the league's ownership group that federal discrimination cases and wrongful termination suits (by general manager Elgin Baylor) in recent years seemed to exist in a vacuum.
All that said, Silver did what he had to do and did it in a way that left little doubt which side of humane the NBA is on.
Moving on, good for the National Basketball Players Association to elect Michele Roberts as its new chief, though I'm not sure the league should be credited for the progressiveness of its players. Its players, however, should be credited with improving the league's image by increasingly exercising their collective voice and power through the biggest stars.
The NBA is growing and improving and seemingly trying. But let us not overlook Major League Soccer, which has traditionally cracked down hardest on instances of homophobia from its players and has perhaps the most recognizable face in that fight with the L.A. Galaxy's Robbie Rogers.
Two years ago, MLS suspended Seattle's Marc Burch for three playoff games after his comments directed at an opposing player, in addition to an undisclosed fine and the order that Burch attend sensitivity training -- a punishment that, when held up to similar examples in the NBA, NFL and NHL, was far more impactful.
They did it because it was the right thing to do. And a lot fewer people were watching.