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  • Aryeh Brickner

A Tale of Two Commissioners: The NBA vs. the NFL



It was the best of times, it was worst of times, it was March 2020 and Covid-19 was starting to run wild in the USA. The major sports leagues were suddenly faced with a spur of the moment decision regarding their seasons. The NBA was lauded for their “decision” to suspend play immediately following one of their players testing positive, (they really had no choice) while the NHL was lambasted for continuing to host fan-filled arenas after it had become abundantly clear this was a serious pandemic. The NFL was sort of lucky, in that their season was still quite a few months away.


NFL commissioner Roger Goodell who is far from being a media darling has displayed outstanding leadership skills during this crisis, ensuring that the NFL is presenting a unified front regarding its activities. The NFL draft, which was supposed to be a Vegas extravaganza was moved online, was executed flawlessly, and was enthusiastically received by all its fans. Goodell even put out a memo to his owners and executives telling them to stay on message and not issue conflicting commentary regarding the draft. The NFL released its yearly schedule on time and has numerous built-in back-up plans.


NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, however, has had a much less steady hand in guiding his ship which has made the NBA look disorganized and weak. True, they do not know when they will be allowed to assemble their players to even play without fans but there does not seem to be any concrete plans regarding this issue. Silver also held a conference call with the entire league to hear their thoughts and opinions about playing. It may have seemed like a very friendly and open-minded idea, but it can lead to chaos, mixed messaging, and players not understanding why the commissioner is looking to them for answers. It could be the best thing for Silver to do is “cancel” the season, which is by no means an easy decision but in doing so he will put his leadership on display, by making the tough call.


During a crisis, it is important to provide an organization a feeling of confidence and security that someone above them knows what they are doing and has a plan. When an engine fails on an airplane, passengers don’t expect the pilots to have a roundtable meeting about where to land the plane.


Roger Goodell’s leadership has far outshined that of Adam Silver during this crisis. He has adapted, while keeping the business running, and provided crystal clear guidance as to what to expect. Silver has provided limited clarity for his players, leaving them guessing about what’s coming next.


If you are managing a team during Covid-19, make sure your employees have a complete understanding of any and all issues relating to their job, the team, and the company. Be sure to provide real-time updates when situations change. But most of all, make sure they know and understand that there is a plan, and someone is indeed guiding the ship.

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