Do age and race affect views about the performance of sports commissioners?

We look back at the Center’s first study of sports and media use, as well as opinions about the performance of NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the wake of the Donald Sterling racial slur scandal.


In 2015, we conducted our first survey on sports, the media, and technology. One question in that survey asked: which of the major sports league commissioners was doing the best job? We asked about eight different leagues, one of which was the NBA (National Basketball Association).

The commissioner of the NBA (who was not identified by name in the survey) came in second to the commissioner of the NFL, with 21% of respondents saying that the NBA commissioner was doing the best job. That the NFL commissioner ranked first, with 29%, is interesting given some of the high-profile issues affecting professional football at the time, but we will leave that story for another day. For this Web Insight, we will look at the data about the NBA commissioner.

In February 2014, Adam Silver took over as commissioner, replacing David Stern. Just three months into Silver’s tenure, he banned Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angles Clippers, from the league for life. This action was in response to racist comments made by Sterling during a private telephone conversation he had with his girlfriend. Silver fined Sterling US$2.5 million, which was the maximum allowed under the NBA Constitution. He also strongly (and successfully) urged owners to vote to expel Sterling from ownership of the Clippers.

With this information for background, it is interesting to see who was most likely and least likely to say that the commissioner of the NBA was, of all the commissioners, doing the best job in 2015. The key variables that distinguish high versus low support are race and age.

Views by race

Only 14% of white respondents said that the NBA commissioner was doing the best job. This was significantly less than the 28% reported by both Latinos and Asians, and 44% of African Americans who said the same.

Views by age

Age played a significant role in views about the NBA commissioner.  Only 15% of those in the 65-74 age range and 12% of those age 55-64 ranked the NBA commissioner as the best. This compares with 20% for respondents age 35-44, 25% for those age 25-34, and 35% for those age 18-23.

In other words, support for the NBA commissioner tended to decrease as age increased.  And respondents who were white were less likely to support the NBA commissioner compared to those in other racial/ethnic groups.

See all Web Insights.

January 9, 2018