NBA learning from NFL’s mishandling of domestic abuse

(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

In the wake of the NFL’s recovery from an off-season of scandals, NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted that he has had several conversations with his counterpart at the NFL about how to handle player incidents.

Preventing issues is preferable to trying to clean up a player’s mess as the media storm surrounding the NFL’s botched punishment of Ray Rice demonstrated. The NBA has taken this to heart with a number of initiatives geared toward preventing players from getting into trouble, including a 24/7 private car service that is shared by other leagues. Silver plans to expand these preventive programs, and even establish a player hotline. “Of course, we can all ratchet up discipline. But the ultimate goal here is to educate our players, educate our teams, so we can prevent additional incidents.”

(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

The NBA’s current punishment guidelines on domestic abuse prevent the league from punishing players without judicial conviction, a potentially disastrous stance considering the number of instances where domestic violence is unreported or victims drop charges. Had Ray Rice been a basketball player, his then-fiancé’s decision to drop charges against him may have prevented the league from punishing him. Once conviction is attained, the NBA has a minimum suspension of only 10 games and mandatory counseling for first offenders.

Silver’s aversion toward increased punishment is somewhat defensible. A “zero-tolerance” policy could open the door to financial exploitation of accused innocent athletes, as explained by Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Dante Cunningham is an example of just such a situation: The former Minnesota Timberwolves forward has been unable to find interest from any team after he was wrongfully accused by an “accuser [who] fabricated some of the allegations against him.”

(Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)
(Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

Any changes to the NBA’s punishment scale will need NBPA approval. Michele Roberts, who is wrapping up her first month as NBPA director, has been actively involved in all domestic violence discussions.

The NBA dodged a media bullet in September when racism within the Atlanta Hawks organization was revealed, but was overshadowed by the NFL’s domestic abuse scandals. It looks like the NBA is once again benefiting from the NFL’s mistakes.

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