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NBA Sets a Moral Compass the NFL Can't Follow

07/30/2014 02:34 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014

In Lebron James' universally-applauded letter in Sports Illustrated announcing his return to Cleveland, the four-time MVP touched on his responsibility as a role model. Wrote James, "What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? ... I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously."

On the other side of town, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has had a summer filled with celebrity photobombing and rolled-up dollar bills. The Heisman trophy winner has consistently defended his lifestyle, saying "I don't think there's anything wrong with me going out and having a nightlife and a social life... I'm 21 years old, and it was the offseason and it's free time for us."

On one end, a veteran of 11 NBA seasons talks about how with every action he takes, he has his most impressionable fans in mind. Perhaps in a decade's time, a grizzled Manziel will talk about the same things.

Coincidentally or not, the leagues these men play in have each spent the past calendar year displaying the same priorities as their Cleveland resident jersey-sellers. Like Lebron, the NBA appears dedicated to setting a proper example. Like Johnny Football, the NFL has continually skirted responsibility for its actions and realities.

For starters, see how each league handled their first openly-gay player. In the NBA, veteran Jason Collins has described his breakthrough as relatively smooth. "After two weeks, it was back to basketball."

It had been two-and-a-half months since Michael Sam's seemingly-inexplicable plummet to the NFLs seventh-round, despite being declared the best defensive player in college football's toughest conference. Just this week former Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy - the NFL's patron saint - publicly declared he wouldn't have taken the guy.

Next, observe how quickly and deliberately NBA Commissioner Adam Silver moved in regards to removing racist team owner Donald Sterling. Then contrast it with the way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has squirted and squirmed his way out of Daniel Snyder's Redskins naming controversy.

The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. ..I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.

 

In our view, a fair and thorough discussion of the issue must begin with an understanding of the roots of the Washington franchise and the Redskins name in particular... the issues raised with respect to the Washington Redskins name are complex, and we respect that reasonable people may view it differently, particularly over time.

This past week, the NFL cowardly suspended Pro Bowler Ray Rice a measly two games for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. For comparison, an NFL first-time offender caught smoking marijuana receives a four-game suspension.

The message to the women who the (NFL) claims constitute 50 percent of its fan base is simple: the NFL wants your money. It will do nothing else for you. It will tolerate those who abuse you verbally and those who abuse you physically.

This same week, the National Basketball Players Association elected Michele Roberts as Executive Director, making her the first woman to lead a professional sports league union in the history of North America.

"It shows how openminded our players are," NBPA president Chris Paul said. "With any of the candidates, it wasn't about race or gender. It was about who was going to be the best person in that position."

Lebron to Manziel, Collins to Sam, Sterling to Snyder and Rice to Roberts - none of these situations are precisely equal, but they all remain comparable. It's clear the NBA is aware of the examples that they set and the influence they can have. The NFL appears to have priorities motivated by something else entirely.

The NBA, the NFL - all the major sports leagues, ideally - should feel, as James put it, "a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one." The NBA is leading by example. Hopefully, someday soon, the NFL will follow.