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/ March 14, 2013
These Pro Sports Commissioners Could Teach John Sexton A Thing Or Two

Say you encounter five men. One looks like an older, scarier Bill Gates. The second’s facial gestures are reminiscent of the Count from Sesame Street. Third is a generic, old, suited white guy, who has a propensity for either looking flustered or creepy. Fourth comes a prototypical ‘golden boy,’ son of a politician and former 3-sport athlete. And last comes a ‘bearded charmer,’ with a certain fondness for hugs.

These men, Bud Selig, Gary Bettman, David Stern, Roger Goodell, and John Sexton, have more in common than you would think. They all lead powerful organizations and, more importantly, they have their share of haters. While we doubt that the five of them are going to meet up for a few beers anytime soon, we have some advice the commissioners could give our very own JSex after the jump.

Roger Goodell: Your personality and your decisions are exclusive.

By all reports, Goodell is a perfectly good guy if you’re speaking to him. He’s “personal, down-to-earth, a good listener, and a brilliant negotiator.” Keeping in line his recent moves towards increased player safety, he is legitimately concerned that a player will die on the field. And he has “a big set of them,” according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to back up his fears when push comes to shove. Seems like someone you’d want to throw a football around and watch a game with, right?

Despite this, he isn’t very well-liked as a commissioner. Some players and fans view his safety measures as stripping the game of its key physicality. Others think he is too unilateral and harsh. For example, in the ‘bountygate scandal’, when it was discovered the New Orleans staff was offering monetary rewards for hurting opponents on the field, he handed down landmark suspensions, including a full season ban to head coach Sean Payton. As of the most recent poll, Goodell only has the approval of 39% of players.

As for Sexton, we all know his magnetic personality; Hell, I’ve never personally encountered the man and still referred to him as a bearded charmer a few paragraphs ago. In addition to hugs, he’s also a bit of a showman, as seen from two Colbert Report appearances. By all accounts, he’s pretty fly for a white guy university president. That won’t make people overlook a controversial plan, as we are seeing now. Hugs may be drugs but they’re not that powerful.

Gary Bettman: Keep those you answer to  happy, everyone else can be dealt with… but it might get ugly.

Gary Bettman may be the most despised commissioner in sports. Over the course of his 20-year tenure, the NHL has had three lockouts, including one of which cost the sport an entire season. Booing him has become an annual tradition; as he presents the champion with the Stanley Cup, fans alternate cheers for their team with boos for the little man with the huge ego. Players have even gotten in on the act, doing everything from calling him a ‘cancer’ to making a thinly veiled threat directed towards his family.

Despite this, there has never been a chance of Bettman losing his job. Why? Because the league keeps expanding and making larger and larger profits. As long as that keeps happening, the fans and players can hate all they want, but the owners will be happy. Those owners are ultimately who Bettman has to answer to. The frequent lockouts are a result of a conflict between the owners, who hold most of the cards, and the players, who are the driving force behind the industry, yet are still reliant on the NHL.

For the Sexton version of that, he has somewhat succeeded. A good chunk of students love him (and assumably the board does too, as a modern college is more of a corporation than anything else). The faculty and growing numbers of others, though, as you might have heard, are kinda/sorta pissed off.

You could posit this no confidence vote as the NHL lockout: it’s more of a symbolic thing than anything else and, on its own, holds no actual power. It’s a clash of emotions, which could end with a dramatic victory for either side. It will probably have the same end as the lockout though, minor concessions one way or another, and more or less the status quo. The board holds the cards and as the New York Times pointed out, this could very well make them rally around Sexton.

David Stern: Be unilateral if it’s an obvious choice.

David Stern doesn’t like to mess around. In 2004, the sports world was mortified by the ‘Malice at the Palace’ brawl, during which Pistons and Pacers player fought not only each other but, also, the fans. The commissioner immediately issued several huge suspensions, most notable banning Ron Artest (now Meta World Peace) for the rest of the season, which amounted to 86 games. When asked if he polled the other league directors to determine the discipline, Stern responded: “It was unanimous, one to none.” For that clear decision, he was applauded. He was quick and decisive, condemning an act that no one approved of.

His unanimous decision-making has also gotten him in trouble, too. Earlier this season, he fined Spurs coach Greg Popovich for not playing his starters in a nationally televised game. While Popovich is known for frequently resting his older star players, Stern viewed the act as a disservice to the fans. Understandably, the commissioner was criticized for the next few days for what was viewed as a ‘tantrum

For our president, leadership obviously involves making tough decisions and acting, at least somewhat, on what he sees fit. However, there is a thin line between exercising authority and ostracizing people. From the New York Times piece:

“But to others, he is an autocrat who treats all but a few anointed professors as hired help, ignoring their concerns, informing them of policies after the fact and otherwise running roughshod over American academic tradition, in which faculty members are partners in charting a university’s course.

‘He has a very evangelical sense of purpose,’ said Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis, ‘that does not extend beyond the concept that the university should be an entity of his own making.’

‘I think,’ he added, ‘when other administrations see that they say, Well that’s what leadership should be. And when faculty see that they say, That is not what university leadership should be. It’s the style of a maverick C.E.O.”

Clearly, it’s been an issue for Sexton.

Selig: Don’t brush over the issues. Deal with them before they explode.

Remember the 90’s in baseball? It was great; home runs were being hit at a marathon rate, the dead ball era was a specter banished to the past, and the game had never been more popular. Of course, as we know now, a hefty part of that was due to steroids. We have to assume Selig knew too, but he didn’t act.

This came to be one of his biggest miscues over his lengthy tenure. While the commissioner is theoretically the guardian of his sport, he turned a blind eye, mortgaging the integrity of baseball for a boost in popularity, only to react when the problem was too big to ignore.

For NYU 2031, its clear there’s an issue. It can’t be danced around any longer with interview interruptions, aphorisms, and vague platitudes. For the sake of everyone involved, it should be discussed frankly, before it blows up to the point that it can no longer be avoided (which it is nearing).

David Stern: Image matters (sort of).

When he took over the NBA, Stern immediately tried to change the leagues image of the league. Striving to combat the rough and urban image the players had began to create, he cracked down. On the court, there were harsher penalties for flagrant fouls (similar to the recently short leash for technical fouls). Off the court, he instituted the infamous NBA dress code. Inactive players could no longer sit on the bench in jeans, oversized t-shirts, snapbacks, and chains; they were bound to business causal attire. Did this fix the deeper issues, which led to the negative image in the first place? No, but it was a step towards a more culturally acceptable league.

What can NYU take from this? While image can’t be the driving force behind an institutions decision-making, it should still be a factor. It’s not a good thing for NYU to continue developing a reputation as corporation masquerading as a school. Even if certain sectors have already been pissed off (like the local neighborhoods and the faculty), they are now being brought to the forefront of the news. And I’m sure that with his background in rhetoric, Sexton is familiar with the phrase ‘perception is reality.’ Even if the issue isn’t solved, there should at least be baby steps towards calming the tensions.

All commissioners: Don’t go international just for the sake of it

It’s a yearly spectacle in every sport: a few random games are played overseas. The NBA and NFL make trips to Europe, the MLB has played in Japan and the NHL regularly sends a few teams to start the season in Eastern Europe and Scandanavia. The catch? No one really likes these trips.

Players and coaches view them as a vacation at best. At the worst, they are a distraction, throwing off carefully regimented training regiments and practice routines. They are a minor inconvenience to American fans, who suddenly find their favorite team playing at unwatchable hours. Most importantly, the trips don’t significantly change the viewing audiences. Very few Brits will care about the NFL either way; even fewer will be won over by a blowout that even the most dedicated American fan would tune away from. Other countries have their own sports traditions and the ‘imperialistic’ American sports leagues can only find so much traction. Either the countries already care or never will.

As we all know, NYU has an obsession with global expansion. The Times article explains the logistical issues, ranging from straining academic departments to provide staff to other campuses and as a way for the school to charge Downtown NYC room and board prices to a student who’s living on another continent.

Ultimately, these commissioners can teach one more thing: haters gonna hate. All of these guys have their share of detractors; that’s the price of being in a leadership position. The only question left is whether or not the haters of NYU 2031 are going to be strong enough to force a change. If sports have shown anything, an upset is always possible.

Photo by Joe Kozlowski. Follow all of NYU Local’s No Confidence Vote coverage here.