TIME Sports

Dont Freak Out If Michael Sam Isn’t Drafted

Michael Sam
University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam warms up at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, on Feb. 24, 2014. Ben Liebenberg—AP

If his name isn't called over the next two days, a flood of hysterical questions and forced debates are inevitable

Now that Johnny Football has been drafted — some team finally did select him, right? Manziel’s not still chugging water at that table? — all eyes turn toward Michael Sam. Usually, the second through seventh rounds of the NFL draft, which ESPN and the NFL network will broadcast tonight and Saturday, are only of interest to die-heard fans. (And plenty of them will stay inside on a lovely spring Saturday, to see whom their favorite team snares in the fifth round. Drama!)

But this year, the later rounds offer intrigue for a much broader audience. Which team, if any, will take Sam, who would become the first active openly gay player to suit up for an NFL franchise? The consensus — which comes with a giant disclaimer, since many anonymous scouts make a living telling strategic lies to NFL reporters — is that Sam will be taken between the fifth and seventh rounds on Saturday, or quite possibly not at all. Bob McGinn, the highly-respected NFL writer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, polled 21 scouts from around the league, and asked where they think Sam should go.

Three said fifth round. Three said sixth round. Three said seventh round. Five said they would sign him as a free agent. Seven said they wouldn’t sign him as a free agent.

Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, has a real problem. He’s a classic tweener: potentially not big and strong enough to play on the defensive line, where he started at Missouri, but not fast enough to play linebacker in the NFL. But Sam, who’s listed at 6-ft., 2-in. and 261 pounds, has improved his 40-yard dash time, vertical leap, bench-press reps, and Wonderlic intelligence test this spring.

If Sam’s name isn’t called over the next two days, expect a flood of hysterical questions and forced debates. Did teams pass on him because of his sexuality, and use his lack of size and speed as a convenient excuse? Did they not want the media “distraction” that would accompany Sam, wherever he goes?

Before rushing to call out NFL execs as bigots, however, consider: whether he’s drafted or not, Sam will get his chance to show a NFL team he can play.

Because worst case, some team will invite Sam to camp as an undrafted free agent. Here, I’ll trust those five scouts in McGinn’s poll who said they would sign him. It would be crazy for no team to at least give the SEC player of the year a look in camp. From a pure football perspective, it’s a low-risk, potential high-reward move. The list of undrafted free agents who later became stars is impressive, and includes Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, ex-NFL MVP Kurt Warner, and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who signed a luscious five-year, $43 million contract extension with the team last summer.

So if you’re a Sam fan, or are just rooting for his social message — a gay player can be accepted in the most “manly” American team sport — don’t freak out if his name isn’t called. If no NFL team extends Sam an invite to camp, that’s when things get fishy. That would reek of weakness and bigotry.

TIME NFL

Johnny Football Learns a Little Humility

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel sat with a sullen look during the draft until Cleveland made its third trade of the first round, grabbing him at No. 22

There was never a reason, really, for humility. Not with the Heisman Trophy — he was the first freshman to ever win it — the records, the partying and palling around with LeBron and Drake. He could make the “cash-money” gestures on field, and be the most cocksure college kid in the land, because Johnny Football almost always delivered on the field. Johnny Manziel did it his way. He was going to enjoy the hell out of his life. He was a college kid, and going to do college kid things. He wasn’t going to miss out on all the fun.

The NFL, however, has a way of crushing you, in front of millions, in prime time. LeBron hoped Manziel would be picked first overall, by the Houston Texas, essentially his hometown team. Not quite. As expected, Houston took Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina. The Jacksonville Jaguars, with the third overall selection, picked the first quarterback of this year’s draft, Blake Bortles of the University of Central Florida. Cleveland, at number four, seemed like a good fit for Manziel: the Browns have used 17 starting quarterbacks since 1999, the most in the NFL. They could use a franchise player, a little stability, at that position. But then the Browns traded that pick to Buffalo. The Bills have a young quarterback, EJ Manuel, they still believe in. Manziel wasn’t going to Buffalo.

For two years, Manziel helped drive huge interest in college football. The whole “Johnny Football” persona transcended the sport. But in New York, player after player passed him in the green room, their NFL dreams fulfilled — guys who never got a sliver of the attention Manziel attracted. Back-to-back, two of Manziel’s Texas A&M teammates got picked before him: Jake Matthews, an offensive lineman, by Atlanta with the sixth pick and Mike Evans, his 6’5” wide receiver, his favorite target, by Tampa Bay with the seventh.

The NFL can send a cruel message. The guy who blocked for you, and the guy who caught your passes, went ahead. To his credit, Manziel was magnanimous, hugging his teammates on their way to meet Roger Goodell at the podium.

Cleveland was up at number eight; maybe they were about to pull off a heist. They bet their man, Manziel, would still be on the board. So they could trade away the number four for Buffalo’s first round pick next year; pick Johnny Football at number eight, and snare another prospect in the process. The breathless crowd waited.

Cleveland took a cornerback, Justin Gilbert. If Manziel chugged a beer in the green room at that point, no one would have blamed him.

So where could he go now? A tantalizing prospect: Dallas, at number 16. America’s team, America’s more alluring college player: what a match. Those big ol’ stars on the Cowboys helmets are there for a reason. Jerry Jones loves them. Sure, he has a starting quarterback, Tony Romo, who drives Cowboys fans crazy but is a more than capable NFL player. Still, Manziel could come in, learn from Romo, maybe take over in a few years. And Jerry Jones likes money. Even as Manziel held a clipboard for Romo, Jones could still sell all those Johnny Football jerseys. And if Romo, who is coming off back surgery, ever faltered….

The Cowboys picked Zack Martin, an offensive lineman from Notre Dame. They passed on the celebrity and picked a guy to protect Romo, their current prized possession.

Time for some shots?

As team after team passed over him, Manziel was losing prestige, and even more importantly, money. The farther you fall, the less you make. At the number four pick, according to one estimate, Manziel could have pocketed a $14 million signing bonus. The Cowboys, at 16, would have given him about $5.3 million.

Manziel sat through it all, trying his best not to hide his disappointment. Still, you could sense it. Finally, around 10:45 p.m. eastern time, it was over: Manziel was a member of the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland made another trade, and grabbed the 22nd pick from the Philadelphia Eagles. Cleveland was clever all night. Instead of just taking Manziel with the fourth pick, they got a cornerback, an extra first rounder next year, and still wound with Manziel later in the first round. All this dealing probably cost Manziel a good $10 million in signing bonus.

But Manziel should be able to compete for a starting spot, against Brian Hoyer, right away. As he approached the stage to greet Goodell, he made the cash-money gesture — hey, NFL QBs, at any draft spot, make good coin — as the Browns fans in New York cheered like crazy.

Manziel’s far from the first star to fall further than expected. Poor Aaron Rodgers was projected as a possible top five pick back in 2005: he dropped all the way to 24, to the Green Bay Packers, who still had Brett Favre kicking around. Rogers looked so sad and confused. Now, he’s one of the best.

Johnny Manziel could wind up as a great one too. But Johnny Football — that guy is already long gone.

TIME NFL

Richard Sherman: The NFL Would Not Have Banned A Donald Sterling For Life

Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman, Superbowl Champion, cornerback Seattle Seahwaks, speaks during Adobe Summit, The Digital Marketing Conference on March 26, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Susan Goldman—AP

The Seattle Seahawks star and TIME 100 honoree, who just signed a $56 million contract extension, talks about the upcoming NFL Draft, the lessons from his famous post-game interview and why the NFL would react differently if it had its own Donald Sterling

When you heard the racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, what was your reaction?

I wasn’t really shocked or anything. Because of what I saw after the incident after the NFC championship game. You’ve got a lot of racial backlash, and a lot of racist comments that were uncalled for – I can never see a time where racism is called for. So it didn’t shock me as much as it would have had I not experienced that personally, had I not seen those things.

Because it showed me that America still had some progress to make. On equality, and understanding that it doesn’t matter what color you are, you treat people as people. And whether a good person or a bad person, you don’t judge them off the color of their skin. You can know a person is a good person or a bad person by who they are, not by what they look like. In that situation, it just seems like a lot of people gave him a lot of flack, well deserved, but you know – I feel like a lot more people were surprised then they should have been.

That’s why a lot of people shy away from the conversation that I forced on us in January. People want to it to be done, they want that uncomfortable truth to be over with, they want the racism to be done, they want to believe everything is great and hunky-dory. And it’s not. There’s a lot of racism still alive and still active. And it just forced America to rethink it once again. And to really, really understand that racism isn’t gone. We have to actively push it out. And snuff it out.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling for life. Do you think if an NFL owner made similar comments, would commissioner Roger Goodell react in the same way, and do you think an owner would be banned for life?

No I don’t. Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins. I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.

Do you hope the Sterling incident can be a touchstone to force some change on the Redskins issue?

I would hope it would help. It’d help reinitiate the conversation. And at least there would be another discussion. You know, I think the discussion has stopped. And the public has just accepted it. And I think there should be more conversations. But it is what it is.

You’re confident that the NFL would not have reacted like the NBA did because they already have a team name like the Redskins. So to you, that says a lot, right?

It does. It says a whole lot.

Thursday marks the start of the NFL Draft. What was that experience like for you back in 2011? Seattle selected you with its 23rd pick in the 5th round. Did you expect to go higher?

I was excited when I got the call. But I was definitely disappointed, I fell so late. I was told by multiple teams that I would go earlier on the second day [NOTE: when the second and third round selections are announced]. I was called on the second day. And teams said they would bring me. And nothing transpired. So that was disappointing. You feel like teams lie to you. And so it was an emotional roller coaster. During days like that, when you expect to get picked on the second day, the time to wait for the third day feels like you’re waiting years. And when it finally comes, and you don’t get picked the whole fourth round, then it feels like an eternity. Where you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, am I not going to get picked at all? Was it all for naught? It it done?’ Then you finally get picked, and it’s you know, all those worries go away for a second.

Are you surprised the draft has become such a huge live event, where people travel from all over the country to New York City just to hear Roger Goodell read names? Last year, I met a Dolphins fan who flew all the way from Panama to be there.

Yeah, I mean it’s kind of crazy, man. It’s kind of crazy. The amount of coverage and the amount of attention it gets. Because it’s a day where you can watch it at home and see the same results. Probably get a better shot of it. It’s really surreal. And I mean, I really can’t imagine why people would go watch it.

Since everyone seems to have an opinion on Johnny Football (Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel), have to ask: do you think he’ll be a good NFL player?

I have no idea to tell you the truth. I’ve seen him play. I think he’s a great player. And he did a great job in college. You know, it can translate very well into the NFL and you can have the next Brett Favre, the next great quarterback. Or it cannot transfer well. You never know until they put pads on, and step onto an NFL field. We’ve seen a lot of average college players turn into great NFL players. We’ve seen great college players turn into great NFL players. We’ve seen great college players turn into terrible NFL players. So you really never can guess how the game’s going to translate until he goes out there and puts it on tape.

So you’re not one of those guys who’s automatically convinced he’s going to be an overhyped bust?

No. Because I’m one of the guys that believes you’re gonna be who you will yourself to be. So if he believes he’s going to be a great quarterback, and he puts in the work, who’s to stop him? I mean, they say his size. But I’ve sat here and watched Russell Wilson win a Super Bowl.

Do you think college players, particularly big stars like Manziel, should be paid?

I do. I think even if they were paid an hourly wage, it’d be quite an improvement from what they get. And you know, I understand the arguments about they’re getting their education paid for, they’re this that and the other, but there are people on academic scholarships that don’t have to deal with any extra rigors. They get their education paid for. And they don’t have to deal with eight hours a day of football, and you know, if you mess up your knee you’ve got to deal with two hours of rehab everyday. So that’s 10 hours of your day gone, and there’s only 24 in a day. So, if they just gave him an hourly wage, even if they gave him 10 bucks, 12 bucks an hour, that’d be a vast improvement over what they got now.

How do you think an NFL team will react to having Michael Sam, the draft prospect from Missouri who announced he was gay back in February, in its locker room?

I think it’ll play out just fine. I think that’s a big deal being made about nothing. I don’t think guys will make a big deal about it in the locker room. I think he’ll be fine. You know, the thing that’ll hurt him is if he doesn’t play well. If he doesn’t play well, it doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, or indifferent. If you can’t play, you can’t play. You can play, you play. And the NFL is a real bottom-line league. And that’s the bottom line.

You attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and got a shoutout from President Obama. What was that like?

I was in awe. It was hilarious after I got past the shock. But it was an incredibly surreal experience for me, to get shouted-out by the president.

How would you characterize these last few months, since your post-game interview, the firestorm it caused, and the Super Bowl win?

It’s been a whirlwind. A lot of apprearances. A lot of attention. A lot of people wanting to get your opinion about things, and it’s just something you’ve got to accept, and something that you have to temper a little bit. You have to temper your emotions and try to stay stable. And also try top stay on your routine.

Did you learn any lessons from that whole experience, being in the media firestorm and sparking a heated national conversation because of the interview?

It showed me how fleeting opinions are. And how opinions and people’s choices and I guess criticisms are rarely based in fact. A lot of times they are knee-jerk reactions, a lot of times they’re based off of media perception, you know, what they can see on the surface. Surface perception. And that a lot of people don’t take time to delve deep into things before they make an opinion, or make a criticism or make a remark. And that’s OK. That’s the society we live in, it is what it is, you have to accept it.

Do you have any regrets about the interview?

I don’t. Because I said exactly what I meant to say. Truthfully, I expected it to get some attention, but I didn’t expect it to overshadow the performances of the game. And us winning the NFC championship. I didn’t think the media would take it that far, but they did. And so once they took it there, we had to change the discourse. But, um, yeah, I was frustrated that a lot of people didn’t acknowledge the great game that [safety] Kam Chancellor played, the great game that [linebacker] Bobby Wagner played, [running back] Marshawn [Lynch] had a good game, [wide receiver] Doug Baldwin had huge catches the whole game, and [wide receiver] Jermaine Kearse made the catch to put us ahead. And you know those are the things that frustrated me a little bit about the incident.

Have you had any contact with Michael Crabtree at all?

I have not.

Has he reached out to you, or you reached out to him, or neither.

Neither.

You’re starring in a new ad campaign for Oberto, the beef jerky brand. One ad touts the athletic training benefits of beef jerky. Gotta say, I’ve never associated beef jerky with athletic training.

(Laughs) Oberto beef jerky is all natural, it’s a great source of protein. I mean we eat all these protein bars, with a bunch of sugar and a bunch of calories. Oberto, it’s just a good, I guess, substitute for that sometimes. You don’t want to always put a bunch of sugar in you. Because your sugar gets high, it gets stuck in your blood, it gets stuck in your system. It makes you tired. You have the ups and downs. So it’s a great substitute to be a little healthier.

But you can understand my reaction?

I definitely could. I definitely could understand your reaction, man. But I also like their slogan. “You Get Out What You Put In.” I mean, that applies to ball, that applies to all walks of life. And thought that that really meshed well with football and what we like to do. But I can definitely see your reaction

(This interview has been condensed and edited)

TIME NBA

Sterling Ban Shows Power of NBA Players

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
NBA commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media about the investigation involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in New York City on April 29, 2014 Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The lifetime ban handed down to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday following revelations of his racist comments marks a new chapter in activism for NBA players like LeBron James. Commissioner Adam Silver won praise, but players pushed the ball

Malik Rose was caught off guard. The former NBA forward, who played 13 seasons before his career ended in 2009, expected NBA commissioner Adam Silver to issue an “indefinite suspension” to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist remarks caught on tape. That “indefinite” language would give Sterling some leeway to go on an apology tour, find some sort of public reformation and return to his courtside seat.

Instead, Silver banned Sterling from the NBA “for life” on Tuesday.

The difference is, to some degree at least, a matter of semantics: lifetime bans can be lifted. But it was a strong statement. From the podium at a closely watched news conference in New York City, Silver expressed great confidence in his convictions.

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver added. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the basis our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.”

Rose, who was respected for both his on-court toughness and off-court intelligence and leadership, was impressed: “I mean, it’s crazy. It’s like Adam Silver is trying to win the MVP race.”

Yes, Silver won the day. But his decision may say as much about the changing nature of the NBA as it does about its new commissioner. In the NBA, the players have wielded tremendous power in recent years. If a star like Dwight Howard wants out of Orlando, or Carmelo Anthony wants out of Denver, they make it happen. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh wanted to play together and build a dynasty in Miami. They made it happen.

In the days after TMZ published audio of Sterling chastising his then girlfriend for bringing black people to Clippers games, the biggest current and former stars in the game — James included — condemned him in no uncertain terms. And Sterling paid the price.

What’s refreshing here is that the players wielded their power on an important social issue. Silver heard the voices of his players, nearly 80% of whom are African American. Sure, James blasting a racist owner doesn’t take the same courage as John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising a fist at the 1968 Olympics or Muhammad Ali losing his heavyweight title over Vietnam. But Rose, a former member of the negotiating committee for the players’ union, doesn’t believe stars would have made the same noise if this incident had happened a decade ago. “Superstars speaking out — more than ever, they understand the full scope of their power,” Rose said. “Strong, united players can affect change. I take great pride seeing that.”

National Basketball Players Association vice president Roger Mason said a group of players told Silver they were ready to boycott the playoffs if the commissioner didn’t take strong action against Sterling.

Now, Silver wants Sterling out of the NBA. He took Sterling’s punishment one step further than many had expected, recommending that the owners force Sterling to sell the team. Silver needs three-fourths of the owners to vote in favor of forcing the sale.

“I’ll let the lawyers lay out for you the provisions of our [league] constitution,” Silver said. “Let’s just leave it that we have the authority to act as I’ve recommended.” Silver is relying on Article 13(d) of the NBA’s constitution and bylaws, which states that ownership can be terminated if an owner “fail(s) or refuse(s) to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.”

Sterling’s racism, in Silver’s view, “adversely” affected the NBA brand enough to warrant this unprecedented action.

Silver also expressed confidence that he’d corral the necessary votes to force Sterling to sell. Twenty-nine teams have expressed support for Silver’s decision, ESPN reports. That support may not translate into votes for the sale.

But Silver seems to be gaining momentum. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for example, had called a forcible sale of Sterling’s team, because of his personal views, a “slippery slope” that sets a dangerous precedent for legislating owner behavior. While Cuban condemned Sterling’s comments, he told the Associated Press that “regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that.” After Silver’s press conference, however, Cuban tweeted that “I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers [sic] findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling.” (Cuban did not return an email from TIME requesting clarification.)

During his news conference, Silver said Sterling expressed no denial, or remorse, about the comments on the tape. Silver said he had “no idea” if Sterling would fight the punishment.

“Based on his history,” says Cari Grieb, adjunct professor of sports law at the John Marshall Law School, “I expect him to litigate to the bitter end. This can be another A-Rod.”

And even if Silver and the NBA owners get their wish, and Sterling is forced to sell the team, the Clippers owner cashes in. His former longtime employee, NBA great Elgin Baylor, has said Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers. And that mentality will line his pockets: Sterling bought the team for $12 million in 1981, and the purchase price for the franchise is sure to be north of $600 million.

“Yeah, it’s somewhat bittersweet that he could profit so much through his punishment,” says Rose. “But in all, it’s a happy day for the NBA.”

TIME NBA

NBA Bans Donald Sterling ‘For Life’ After Racist Rant

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handed down the unprecedented punishment of banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from his team, the latest fallout in an incident that sparked national outrage after audio emerged of Sterling making racist comments

Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner who has been at the center of a national firestorm since a recording emerged last week depicting him making racist comments, was punished Tuesday with a lifetime ban from the NBA and a $2.5 million fine.

In his first major decision since assuming leadership of the league, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handed down the unprecedented punishment of banning an owner from his own team. Silver said Sterling will be prohibited from attending games, practices, league owner meetings, or participating in team or league business in any way. Silver said he would ask the other owners to exercise their authority to force a sale of the team—a move that could set up a heated legal battle.

“I am banning Mr. Sterling for life,” Silver said at a news conference in New York. He said the lifetime ban was effective immediately and would remain so regardless of whether Sterling sells the team.

Sterling did not immediately comment Tuesday. The recording, which was first published by TMZ over the weekend, depicted him chastising his then-girlfriend for posting a photo of herself alongside a friend and NBA legend Magic Johnson to Instagram. During the conversation, Sterling told his girlfriend not to bring black people to Clippers games.

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” Sterling said in the recording. “You can sleep with [them]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”

Silver said Sterling acknowledged during the league’s investigation into the recording that it was his voice on the tape. The league’s investigation, Sterling said, determined that “the man whose voice is heard on the recording … is Mr. Sterling, and that the hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling.

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver added. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the basis our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.”

The ban comes in the midst of a playoff run by the team. The Clippers are tied at two games apiece in a first-round, best-of-seven series against the Golden State Warriors, with game 5 set for Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The distracted Clippers were crushed in game 4, 118-97, after turning their warmup jerseys inside-out before the game as a show of protest.

The Clippers didn’t immediately comment Tuesday, but the team changed its homepage to simply declare: “We Are One.” The team also wrote “#WeAreOne #Clippers” on its Twitter feed.

Silver said he’s hopeful both the team and the league can move past the controversy.

“My message to the Clippers fans is this league is bigger than any one owner,” he said.

Current and former players and coaches—including Johnson, Michael Jordan and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers—and even President Barack Obama had fiercely criticized Sterling’s comments in the days after their disclosure. Silver received quick praise Tuesday for his decision.

“Commissioner Silver showed great leadership in banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life,” Johnson, who is reportedly interested in buying the team, said on Twitter.

“I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on Twitter.

Twenty-two of the league’s 30 owners would have to vote in favor of forcing a sale. Silver said he hadn’t polled the owners, but that “I spoke to several owners and I have their full support.” It remains unclear who will assume control of day-to-day operations of the team. Sterling purchased the Clippers for $12 million in 1981, and NBA franchise values are soaring: The small-market Milwaukee Bucks just sold for $550 million. A sale could also compel corporate sponsors that have abandoned the franchise, such as State Farm, Kia Motors, Red Bull, and Virgin America, to return.

Sterling has kept a low profile since the recording emerged. His representatives have neither confirmed nor denied its authenticity. “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings,” the team said in a statement over the weekend. “It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.”

The $2.5 million fine against Sterling is a drop in the bucket for a man whose total net worth is estimated to be $1.9 billion, and he will presumably make millions if he sells the team.

Silver was under intense pressure to take action. Star players around the league and other owners, including Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Bobcats and Paul Allen of the Portland Trail Blazers, had blasted Sterling, and President Barack Obama even weighed in while traveling in Asia over the weekend. “I have confidence that the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, a good man, will address this,” Obama said from Malaysia.

TIME Basketball

Here’s What the NBA Can Do to Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits courtside at the NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles on April 4, 2010. Danny Moloshok—AP

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling could face formal repercussions on Tuesday for an alleged racist rant when NBA commissioner Adam Silver makes an announcement about the probe of an incident that has sparked national uproar

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday in New York City, at which point he may announce his punishment for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who purportedly made racist remarks about African Americans during a private conversation revealed by TMZ. Silver, who replaced longtime NBA chief David Stern in February, promised on Saturday to move “extraordinarily quickly” on the Sterling manner. “There are broad powers in place under the NBA’s constitution and bylaws that include a range of sanctions, and all of those will be considered depending on the findings of our investigation,” Silver said.

Turns out that in his first major decision as NBA commissioner — President Barack Obama even referenced Silver by name during his comments on the matter from Malaysia, so no pressure — Silver will indeed have pretty broad leeway to dole out what, in his view, is just punishment. The first, and probably least effective, option is a straight fine. NBA owners have been subject to fines before: Mark Cuban, for example, got slapped with a $500,000 penalty in 2002 for criticizing referees. Stern fined Sterling $6 million back in 1984, after Sterling moved the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles without the league’s approval.

Silver doesn’t need the other owners to approve a fine. But Sterling is worth $1.9 billion, according to Forbes. Even some recording-breaking fine — say, in the range of $10 million or so — will be a pittance for Sterling, who has a documented history of loutish behavior.

Silver can also suspend Sterling, again, without a formal vote from the owners. Player suspensions are fairly straightforward: you can’t practice or play. But can an owner, who has paid millions for the asset, be kept out of his office by a third party, in this case, the commissioner? Yes. In 2000, for example, Stern suspended Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor from October 2000 through August 2001 because of a secret deal the team concocted with forward Joe Smith that circumvented the league’s salary-cap rules. During that time, Taylor could not go to games, negotiate deals or talk to reporters (ironically enough, Taylor is now interim chairman of the NBA’s board of governors).

Essentially, the owner still holds on to the asset, but can’t be involved in day-to-day operations. In baseball, then commissioner Fay Vincent banned George Steinbrenner for life in 1990 for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield. Vincent later allowed Steinbrenner to return for the 1993 season.

Slapping an indefinite suspension on Sterling would probably be Silver’s best tactic to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Not that Sterling doesn’t already clear economic incentive to unload the team. He purchased the franchise for $12 million back in 1981. According to Forbes, the Clips are now worth $575 million, but even that figure is probably conservative: the small-market Milwaukee Bucks, sans stars like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, just sold for $550 million. In the open market, the Clippers would surely fetch much more. As SI.com’s Michael McCann reports:

The NBA’s constitution, which is confidential, reportedly contains language permitting owners to authorize the league to sell a team without an owner’s consent. The language, SI.com is told, only covers very limited circumstances and these circumstances concern league finances — namely, when an owner can’t pay his bills. There is reportedly no language authorizing the NBA to sell a team because of an owner’s hurtful remarks or embarrassing behavior. Even if conditional language could be construed to authorize a forced sale of the Clippers, NBA owners would likely be reluctant to do so given the precedent it would set.

Sterling could appeal any kind of punishment and drag this mess out even further. The fact that the recording between Sterling and his ex-girlfriend could be illegal — in California, both parties to a conversation must consent a conversation being taped — may empower Sterling to put up a fight. The NBA’s best hope is that an angel investor — hey, like this guy! — swoops in and makes Sterling an offer too good to refuse, and that Sterling comes to a common-sense conclusion: his days as an NBA owner appear numbered.

TIME NBA

The Clippers Should Have Boycotted Game After Owner’s Racist Remarks

The distracted NBA team was steamrolled in its Sunday playoff game amid a national uproar over racist comments attributed to owner Donald Sterling

+ READ ARTICLE

After TMZ released audio of what was purportedly Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments to his girlfriend, his team was scheduled to play a basketball game on Sunday. The circumstances — following wide attention to the audio in which Sterling is depicted admonishing her for associating with African Americans in public, including Magic Johnson — were unprecedented. The players, most of whom are black, had to represent an owner whose allegedly racist views — the team kinda, sorta questioned the authenticity of the audio — were now broadcast to the world. Even President Barack Obama, on the other side of the globe in Malaysia, admonished Sterling for his “incredibly offensive racist statements.”

The Golden State Warriors, to no one’s surprise, crushed the distracted Clippers, 118-97, to tie their best-of-seven playoff series at 2-2. “Watching that game, you just saw the lack of effort,” says former Clipper Marques Johnson, who played for Sterling’s team for three seasons in the mid-1980s, and is now a basketball analyst for Fox Sports Net. “Guys were slow on the defensive rotations. To the trained eye, there was a stuff out there you could see. Trust me, they played, but they really didn’t.”

The Clippers could have done themselves, and the country, a huge favor on Sunday afternoon, and boycotted the game altogether. They were in no mental position to win anyway. They wore their warmup shirts inside out, an admirable gesture of unity. But it didn’t go far enough. “Sometimes the severity of the situation supersedes the notion of ‘the show must go on,'” Johnson says. “Forget about all the sanitized statements. Show the ultimate balls. Don’t play the game. No one would have ever blamed them.”

A one-game forfeit would have sent a historic social message: we won’t stand for the racism that even Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who has famously dodged political discourse his entire career, called “sickening.” And the Clippers would have returned to Los Angeles for Game 5 riding a wave of emotion and nationwide admiration for their principled stance. “It was a missed opportunity,” Johnson says. “The timing was just perfect”

At least, Johnson says, the players should have demanded that Sterling meet with them face to face before the game and explain himself. If his apology seemed sincere, they could take to the court with more comfort. If they sensed insincerity, they’d have even more reason to back out. “The players had all the leverage here,” Johnson says. A five-time NBA All-Star who went to UCLA and spent most of his career playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Johnson says he did not experience any racism from Sterling directly. Johnson remembers the owner’s notorious frugality: during one training camp, Sterling put the team up in a tacky motel. “There was just this pervasive attitude about how he viewed his players,” Johnson says. “He thought of us as property.”

So the racist comments didn’t surprise Johnson, especially since he’s familiar with Sterling’s sordid past. The federal government sued Sterling for refusing to rent apartments to blacks and Latinos; he settled for $2.7 million. Former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor also sued Sterling for racial discrimination, though that claim was eventually dropped.

Now, in his first major test since taking over for David Stern in February, it’s up to new NBA commissioner Adam Silver to come down hard on Sterling. Expect a swift decision, and Silver won’t wilt: unless that tape was somehow doctored — an unlikely story — Sterling will be fined and suspended. Maybe Silver sets Sterling’s banishment from the league in motion.

Such a decision won’t set off much protest. But a Clippers walkout — that would have been remembered forever.

TIME College Sports

NCAA Hypocrisy Strikes Again: Michigan Star Forced To Go Pro

A "student-athlete" who wanted to stay in school now doesn't have that option

If you can stand 30 seconds of soft torture, please watch this advertisement from the NCAA:

The NCAA has been running such propaganda since last year, during big events like the March Madness basketball games. They’ve always bothered me, since they’re nonsensical. How exactly is bureaucratic sports organization headquartered in Indianapolis a “spirit-squad” for college athletes going on job interviews? I was an NCAA athlete back in the late 1990s. Where were my cheerleaders when I bombed several inquisitions? Well, that was a long time ago. So maybe this pom-pom thing is a new development.

Or is this some kind of metaphorical message? Since you played college sports, and learned teamwork and confidence and other qualities, you’ll be more prepared for real-life events like a job interview? Yeah, OK, whatever. A good ad should require no decoding.

But the key, really, is the end of the ad, when the narrator says that the NCAA is “always there for student-athletes.” We’ve got your back, the NCAA is saying. That’s a bold, strong proclamation.

Too bad it’s not true.

Consider the case of Michigan basketball star Mitch McGary. During the Wolverines’ run to the title game in 2013, the then-freshman emerged as a force, averaging 16 points and 11.6 rebounds in the NCAA tournament before Michigan fell to Louisville in the final. He had shed twenty pounds during the season, and had a kind of goofy, lovable-lug way about him. One of his teammates told a story: While heading to a shootaround in New York City before a game, everyone noticed that McGary wasn’t on the team bus. Turns out he got stuck in a hotel elevator, which gave the team more reason to razzle the rookie: His weight caused it to stop.

But McGary was able to laugh at himself, too. He was just a college kid. And despite his NBA potential, McGary seriously considered remaining in college next year. NCAA, dispatch the spirit squad. The whole point is for these “student-athletes” to stay in school, right?. Instead, McGary is off to the NBA, against his will, thanks to the draconian policies of the NCAA itself.

A back injury limited McGary to just eight games this season. He missed the NCAA tournament. After Kentucky knocked Michigan out of the tournament in the Elite 8, writes Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports: “McGary was contemplating whether to enter the NBA draft or return for his junior season. Coming back would allow him to prove his back was fine and continue enjoying life in Ann Arbor. His play could bolster his NBA draft stock. It was an attractive option.”

But then he got some news: McGary had failed a marijuana drug test during the tournament. And even though he did not play during any of the games, under NCAA rules, he would have to miss all of next season. As Wetzel explains, if Michigan had administered the test during the regular season, and McGary tested positive, he probably would have missed three games under Michigan’s punishment. But since the NCAA takes over the testing during the tournament, McGary is subject to the NCAA penalty: a full-year ban for a first-time offender. For using a recreational drug growing more legal and accepted by the day.

The NCAA denied Michigan’s appeal. But then, right after reaffirming McGary’s one-year ban, the NCAA itself changed the punishment for future first-time offenders, reducing it from a one-year ban to a half-season ban. “Street drugs are not performance-enhancing in nature, and this change will encourage schools to provide student-athletes the necessary rehabilitation,” the NCAA said in a statement. But the new policy goes into effect on Aug. 1. And the NCAA declined to apply the new standard to McGary.

The NCAA: “We’re always there for student-athletes.”

Sure.

In his interview with Wetzel, McGary took responsibility for his mistake. He smoked marijuana while hanging out with friends in March—usually, he says, he turns it down. He had passed every other drug test Michigan gave him over two years. McGary may have gone to the NBA regardless of this incident. But what should have been a minor, embarrassing suspension for next season turned into a ridiculous one-year ban, and left him no choice.

The NCAA: “We’re always there for student-athletes.”

So if the NCAA refuses to apply common sense to its enforcement system, the least it can do is stop running those ads. Because they’re blatantly hypocritical. And I’d rather not throw a shoe at my television.

TIME TIME 100

The 2014 TIME 100: The Athletes Matter

The five athletes on this year's list exemplify excellence, perseverance, and a pioneering spirit.

Whether you’re in the stadium cheering like crazy for them, or sitting on the couch screaming in disbelief because someone just pulled off the seemingly impossible, great athletes can inspire you. They can move you. Sometimes even to tears.

The influence of the five athletes in the 2014 TIME 100 extends far beyond the playing field. Jason Collins, center for the Brooklyn Nets, finished the 2013-2014 NBA season averaging 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds per game. Despite the unimpressive stats, he’s a pioneer. This year Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in a major U.S. sports league. “Jason has always maintained that he’s first a basketball player,” writes Chelsea Clinton, Collins’ Stanford classmate, in the TIME 100 issue. “He is. But he’s also a leader and inspiration.”

Richard Sherman, of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, isn’t just the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL. His smack-talking rant during a post-game interview, immediately following the NFC championship game, sparked a national conversation about race, stereotyping, and sportsmanship. Critics were quick to label the dreadlocked star a “thug.” But Sherman, a Stanford grad raised in Compton, Calif., engaged in the debate — most athletes flee social questions — and wondered if that term is really today’s way of calling him the N word. In a heartbeart, Sherman altered the discourse.

Serena Williams is back on the list — she last made the TIME 100 in 2010 — which is a testament to her staying power. Williams is still the number one player in the world. Remember, years ago, when skeptics wondered if she was focused enough on tennis, given her passion for fashion and other interests? Plenty of tennis stars burned out. Serena remains a dominant force — and a joy to watch.

“Serena is a warrior,” writes her friend, Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade. “An aggressive and competitive nature combined with passion, drive and skill make her a formidable and fierce opponent.”

The young golf phenom Lydia Ko, who turns 17 today, has the potential to help grow the women’s game around the world. “She is responsible for sparking increased interest in our sport not just in her native South Korea and adopted homeland of New Zealand but also among juniors across the globe,” writes eight-time LPGA player of the year Annika Sorenstam.

Around a billion people watched the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Soccer’s influence exceeds its beauty. This summer in Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal — the world’s best player — will try to lead his country to its first-ever appearance in the championship match. “I wish him the best this summer at the World Cup in Brazil,” writes Pelé. “But if Portugal goes to the final against Brazil, I’m sorry, Cristiano, but I want to Brazil to win.”

Pelé will be cheering. And the world will be watching, enjoying the kind of shared cultural experience that sports, and sports alone, can deliver.

TIME Athletes

Meb Keflezighi’s Boston Marathon Win Is a Victory For Us All

Meb Keflezighi crosses the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. Jim Rogash—Getty Images

A year after the Boston Marathon bombings, the immigrant American's victory sends a strong, symbolic message to the perpetrators of that awful event

One year ago, two young immigrant men, fed up with the American way of life, allegedly terrorized the Boston Marathon. A year later, an old — by marathon-running standards — immigrant who has totally embraced his adopted country won the historic race, thrilling everyone in attendance. On the first running of the Boston Marathon since last year’s bombings, Meb Keflezighi is the perfect man for the moment.

The message this victory sends to the bombers is not subtle: Screw you. You squandered your opportunity, your chance at the American dream — which still exists, thank you. You blew it. This could have been you.

Keflezighi became the first American man to win a Boston Marathon since 1983. No one gave him much of a chance, given his age — he will turn 39 next month — and the reality that since 1991, a Kenyan has won the race 19 times.

But Keflezighi has surprised skeptics before. He won a silver medal in the Athens Olympics marathon in 2004, and in 2009 became the first American to win the New York City Marathon in 27 years. That win kindled a tortured debate about “real” Americanism; a CNBC.com commentary, entitled “Marathon’s Headline Win Is Empty,” said that “the fact that [Keflezighi] is not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement … Nothing against Keflezighi, but he’s like a ringer you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league.” Comments on a running site included: “Give us all a break. It’s just another African marathon winner” and “Meb is not an American – case closed.”

Yes, Keflezighi was born in an Eritrean house with no electricity. But his family fled that country’s war with Ethiopia when he was still a young boy. “I ran my first mile here,” Keflezighi told me in a 2012 interview before the London Olympics, where he finished fourth in the marathon. “I didn’t know the sport was an option in Eritrea.” He ran cross country in grammar school and high school in San Diego, and at UCLA. He’s a product of the American running system.

CNBC.com, for its part, apologized after the flap. But all questions about Meb Keflezighi’s Americanism have surely been answered by now. Especially on this day. Last year, Keflezighi attended the race, but did not run: he left only about five minutes after the bombs went off. “When the bomb exploded, every day since I’ve wanted to come back and win it,” Keflezighi said afterwards, via USA Today. “I wanted to win it for the people of Boston. It’s beyond words.”

He doesn’t need them. A year later, Keflezighi’s win speaks louder than any bomb ever could.

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