Doug Logan is an Adjunct Professor of Sports Management, at New York University.
He was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010.
He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999. To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview
This is his 47th article. Click here for his entire series.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
Spending Political Capital
I learned a great lesson from a Democratic politician from Hartford, Connecticut, many years ago.
Nick Carbone was the President of the Harford City Council and the de-facto boss of his city. His family owned several restaurants and Carbone put together a governing coalition that included business and labor, urban and suburban, and Caucasians and minorities. He had a rapier for a mind and a constant twinkle in his eye.
Carbone held court on his political philosophies one night at a dinner table at one of his family’s emporiums. I was fortunate to be in attendance. He stated that all leaders had a moral obligation to spend political capital rather than to merely aggregate it. Put another way, he said that any politician with “favorable” ratings over 50% was not doing his/her job. Any leader that was universally loved was avoiding making tough decisions. He insisted that one who is appointed or elected to a position of power is obliged to use that power to further the common good, regardless of the electoral or job security consequences. The right thing is not always the nice thing or the popular thing.
As I watch NBA Commissioner Adam Silver navigate through his knotty LA Clippers/Donald Sterling problems, I am reminded of Nick Carbone.
On their face, it does not seem like Commissioner Silver’s actions are an extraordinary act of courage. He has banned Mr. Sterling from the NBA for life; he has fined him the maximum [$2.5M] allowed by his league’s by-laws; he has commenced proceedings to force Mr. Sterling to sell his asset. These actions have been almost unanimously endorsed by the league’s players, the owners, the fans and the press. Even President Obama weighed in with his approval.
But you have to look beyond the surface. There are some unique aspects to the job of Sports Commissioner. Besides running a commercial business, there is the additional duty to act as the major domo of the sport. And, in that instance it requires one to supervise and, at times, sanction one’s own bosses. No one takes a position like this without acknowledging the traps and potential repercussions to meting out discipline to your employers. It’s very tricky.
Every time you punish one of your owners you expend political capital. It doesn’t matter if the transgressor’s partners are all in agreement with your actions. The not so subtle inference is that “…if he did it to him, one of these days he could do it to me.” Commissioner Silver’s owners, less Sterling, all appear to be backing him right now. But in the back of their minds a little voice is saying “What if TMZ got a hold of all my Voicemails?”, or, “What if my tax returns are ever published?”, or, “What about my text messages?”. “Can he do to me what I have just approved him doing to Sterling?”
I remember my early months as Commissioner of Major League Soccer. I discovered that one of our teams had ignored a directive I had given, prohibiting a “bush league” ticket discounting policy. I fined the team, its General Manager and the owner the maximum allowed in the by-laws. I remember hanging the phone up, after informing them, and thinking…”Ohhhh shit! I have just fined the fourth-richest man in America $50,000.00. And, he’s going to remember!”
On another occasion I took a player [Carlos Valderrama] away from a team and an owner whose coach was petulantly benching the Colombian mid-fielder for not playing the right “style” of soccer. My demise was further accelerated when I fired a senior member of the league staff who was a favorite of many of the owners. They all agreed that I had the power to fire him, and most admitted that if he had committed the actionable transgressions within their own organizations, they, also, would have fired him. Despite this, several owners called and asked if I could be merciful and find an alternate punishment.
Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the NHL, called me the day after I was fired from MLS to commiserate. He said to me; “If we are doing our jobs right, most of us [Commissioners], at any given time, have seven or eight of our thirty owners pissed off at us. Your problem was that you only had seven owners.”
More recently I served as CEO of USATF, a role that, for all practical purposes, is the de jure Commissioner for the sport of track and field. One of my first actions was to convince the Board of Directors that hired me to dissolve and support a major change in governance. This is akin to convincing the turkey to vote in favor of Thanksgiving. They never forgot. The new by-laws took away a lot of day-to-day power from the membership of the body and placed it in professional [my] hands. It made no difference that these changes were ratified by formal votes. They deeply resented them. It took a while, but they ultimately got me.
Commissioner Silver’s “honeymoon” is over. He has just begun to spend his valuable political capital. Let’s hope the vault is large.