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Out With the Old and In With the New

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I am sure we have all calmed down from the frothy excitement of this year's NFL draft. Wasn't it just thrilling when Commissioner Goodell announced each pick as if it were a "pick six" -- an interception for a touchdown? The draft is a deadly dull exercise in economics. Any association of businesses that would allocate personnel as the NFL did last week would be committing a violation of the federal antitrust law -- a restraint of trade. The hero of this event is the NFL Players Association. By agreeing to the draft in its collective bargaining agreement with the NFL, the NFLPA bestows an "exemption" on the League, protecting it from antitrust exposure. Of course, few were really concerned about the legal ramifications of the draft. They were much more interested in whether their club would select another Tom Brady in the sixth round who would lead their franchise to three Super Bowls.

The NFL draft ushered in a new era in professional sport when the St. Louis Rams drafted Michael Sam, a brilliant linebacker from the University of Missouri. Sam, as most of America knows, announced a while back that he was gay. Thus, Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL club, although there have been many gay professional athletes over the years. For most people who know and work with gay men and lesbian women, there was not much of a surprise in all of this. For others, however, the thought of a gay man in the locker room raised frightful issues, especially when Sam kissed his partner upon hearing the news of his selection.

Before the troglodytes freak out, we were all reminded that, as a seventh-round pick, Sam does not stand a very good chance of making it to the final roster of 53. Were Sam discarded along the way, the naysayers will all join in a chorus of "we told you so." Much like those who booed Jackie Robinson, there are many who want Sam to fail. The new America, where sexual orientation is about as relevant as skin color, is not a comfortable place for those who like things the way they were. Mike Sam messes up all their stereotypes.

Before we announce the coming of the new world, however, it would be best to catch up on developments in the old. Donald Sterling continues to provide a rich storyline. His mea culpa to CNN's Anderson Cooper was a publicist's nightmare. It was hard to see how he could make a terrible situation even worse, but he did.

Sterling trashed Magic Johnson, one of the nation's most beloved former athletes. Although Sterling repeatedly told Anderson that he was not a racist, it was hard to confirm that proposition in the remainder of his comments. At some point, Sterling will have to justify himself to the ultimate judge. Did he lead a good life? Was he a credit to humankind? In the meanwhile, he will have to justify himself to the other 29 owners of NBA clubs. While his place in the afterlife is not at stake in this business proceeding, his current status as the senior owner in the association is much in jeopardy. The market value of the entire professional basketball enterprise is at stake, and the owners each know the damage Sterling has done and continues to do to their bottom lines.

It is not surprising that Donald Sterling seems to have lost touch with the reality of America today. He is a very senior guy, turning 80 a few weeks ago. He grew up in a different time. Some commentators have mentioned the possibility that he has dementia, but that seems too easy an out. He is just close-minded, an affliction of many people at all ages.

This is a time of genuine transition in professional sports. With Sterling heading out and Sam heading in, the way we think about leaders and participants in sports is changing. There will be bumps along the way -- others like Donald Sterling who are remnants from the past -- but economics, changing demographics and social change will triumph over outmoded ways of thinking about the games we love.

 
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