(23-29 July 2016)
There are times when actions really do speak louder than words. The National Basketball Association (NBA) faced such a situation last week. Words weren't enough to effect change to a controversial law in Charlotte, North Carolina. The city had been scheduled to host the 2017 All-Star Weekend. But it will no longer do so.
First a re-cap: after the NBA awarded Charlotte the hosting rights in 2015, North Carolina signed into law a bill to repeal the city's LGBT non-discrimination laws. The bill obliges transgender individuals to only use those public toilets corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth.
The stadium slated for the All-Star games was a public facility. Therefore, sticking with Charlotte effectively meant creating a platform for North Carrolina's discriminatory law to be applied at an NBA-owned sports property. Moving the game, however, risked upsetting not just fans, businesses and politicians, but also basketball royalty. The host team, the Charlotte Hornets, are majority-owned by Michael Jordan (also the only African American owner in the league). So no easy issue to navigate for the NBA.
Following the bill's passage, however, the NBA mixed thoughtful action with exemplary communication at all levels. The NBA was clear in public about the conflict between its values and the new law. Whilst inn private, there was constant contact with key stakeholders, including the personal participation of the man at the top, Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner.
The NBA's regular and personal communication ensured the process of moving the game out of Charlotte was widely understood, and praised, even by those unhappy with the result of the process: "The way we looked at it, I am grateful that Adam was very deliberate and measured in making the final decision, working with us as partners from March 28 until (Friday)," said Fred Whitfield, the Hornets' president and Chief Operating Officer, following the NBA's decision. "I have talked to him or Kathy Behrens (the NBA's President for Social Responsibility and Player Programs) or Rick Buchanan (the NBA's General Counsel) every day since then."
Negotiations involving the NBA to try and change the North Carolina law, meanwhile, showed commitment to a wider a cause. A commitment which was in line with the actions of other big business in America such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank who had both chosen to keep hundreds of jobs out of North Carolina.
But perhaps one of the best measures of how well communicated the decision was lies in the fact that even players hailing from North Carolina shared their understanding of the decision on social media:
Taking a stand against discrimination has been a cornerstone of Adam Silver's tenure as NBA commissioner. The decision to ban LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling following racist remarks was an early marker. Since then, the NBA has also shown itself to be relaxed about letting athletes speak out about social issues including racism, gun control and feminism. The resulting engagement between players and fans on social media has proved valuable to the brands that sponsor those players. And the value of the teams themselves has skyrocketed, ensuring owner support for Silver's approach.
So for his careful negotiation of the potential pitfalls that come with mixing sports, business and social issues, Adam Silver is JTA's Communicator of the Week.