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This Week In Sports: Team Leaders

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And today we're going to talk about leadership because our friend Mike Pesca has some opinions about how the men at the top of their respective sports leagues use their positions to greater and lesser effect. We are talking about the head of the NBA, Adam Silver, and the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. Mike is, of course, the host of The Gist on Slate. He joins me now. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yes, I lead The Gist.

MARTIN: You do. You're the leader. OK, Adam Silver was in the news this past week because he gave this interview with Yahoo Sports that you found particularly illuminating. How come?

PESCA: That's right. That's right. So the incident we're talking about is on December 3, Rajon Rando was suspended for going nuts on the basketball court, staring down an official. And for a little while, no one knows what was behind it. But it turns out he directed an anti-gay slur at the official. And he wasn't suspended. It took eight days for that suspension to come down. Three days after the suspension came down, the official came out as gay. And so Adam Silver was a bit criticized. On the one hand, no one has ever been suspended for an anti-gay slur. They have been fined. Joakim Noah and Kobe Bryant have been fined. So it was unprecedented. So you could say, wow, this was the stiffest penalty. On the other hand, a lot of people were saying there was a huge delay and he should've been suspended more to send a message. So this interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, he laid out his thinking. And it was really illuminating. It was illuminating on a couple - for a - on a couple levels but because I think implicitly, and I wouldn't be surprised if explicitly, he was contrasting his thought process with how Roger Goodell suspends people in the NFL.

MARTIN: OK, explain because he - Silver has been given a lot of props and treated very kindly by the media - Roger Goodell, not so much.

PESCA: Yeah, overall. Although this Rando thing, I've seen headlines - is this is first misstep? And one of the reasons Silver was given props is he handled the Donald Sterling incident, the owner of the Clippers, very well. So in this, Silver said a few things. One, if he came out with a harder suspension before Bill Kennedy, the referee, had come out, it would sort of be putting the onus on Kennedy to come out. He thought - he'd worried that he'd out Kennedy. But he also talked about how much he values due process. There are a couple unions involved, not just Rando's but Bill Kennedy, the referee, is in a union. And that is in contrast with how Roger Goodell does his job. He doesn't say I don't value due process, but if you look at the facts, he suspends harshly. And then in really prominent cases, like the New Orleans Saints, like Ray Rice, like Adrian Peterson, they all get overturned either on appeal or by an independent arbitrator. So it doesn't hold up. And the other thing - and I think this was really illuminating - specifically Silver said, quote, "I don't think we should be making examples of anyone. I think that's why the Players Association exists through check authority." Whereas if you look at what Goodell says, he believes in making examples. And after the Saints case, he says, it calls for a very significant and clear message. It's a different management style and it seems that Silver is more of a 21st century or second eighth of the 21st century type of manager, also a better communicator. Maybe, I better...

MARTIN: But these are really different leagues, Mike.

PESCA: That's right.

MARTIN: I mean, they're different animals.

PESCA: Yes, and, you know, I would say what it really comes down to is you have to serve your constituency. Adam Silver's owners, a lot of them are tech billionaires, a little younger, a little more progressive. And the NFL owners, old-school owners. And of course, they love Roger Goodell. That's why he gets paid, you know, 30, $40 million. So people are acting as if they are - as they are incentivized to act. But I see a real difference and I think it's really interesting.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca, he's the host of The Gist on Slate. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.