During a convention focused on how sports can provide positive contributions to the world, soon-to-be-retired NBA commissioner David Stern discussed the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the recent global backlash surrounding that country’s perceived new “anti-gay” law.
Entitled the “Beyond Sport Summit,” Stern was one of several speakers, including former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, to take the stage in Philadelphia for a one-on-one discussion with moderator and ESPN anchor Kevin Negandhi on Wednesday. Stern talked about the interconnected roles government and sports share, and how sports can have an overall positive influence.
He also touched on the 2014 Olympics, and the look-the-other-way approach many have taken since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill in June that banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” The law allows police to arrest Russians, as well as tourists, who are either suspected of being gay, or showing support for gays.
“I’m gonna behave myself, for the record here, which is unlike me,” Stern said according to Philly.com. “But you know, the first phone call to the new head of the Olympics [was] from President [Vladimir] Putin, and everyone wants to talk about the Russian law on homosexuality. Think about the opportunities that sports have to make a continuing statement, and the only thing that we’re saying in that context is ‘Shhhh! No one say anything!’”
When the law was originally signed, protests broke out around Russia, and several turned violent. Social media captured disturbing images of gays and supporters attacked in the streets by pedestrians as well as local law enforcement.
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The timing of Stern’s comments come roughly six months before he is to step down from the NBA’s top post after 30 years of service. In that time, he has expanded the league domestically, but has also used his skills to spread the game overseas, especially to China and Eastern Europe.
Stern’s voice does hold significant weight as he is currently the only commissioner from one of the four major American sports to decry Russia’s new law. However, his sport will not have any athletes in Sochi. And neither will the NFL’s Roger Goodell, or MLB’s Bud Selig.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman came to an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation in July that will allow the league’s players to participate in the Olympics for the fifth straight time. The NHL regular season will be put on hold as a result.
While Bettman hasn’t made a direct statement about Sochi, the NHL has a partnership with an advocacy group called You Can Play, which promotes the acceptance of LGBT athletes in sports. And several NHL players, including Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, have been critical of the law.