Picture this: You graduate GW with a bachelor’s degree and head out into the real world. Foggy Bottom is a distant memory of drunken stupors, late nights at Pizza Italia and Lulus excursions. All of the job applications are in and it is now interview time. Ten interviews later you get a job.
After the kvetching from your mother and the mindless advice from your father you are ready for the big day.
After a shower and a shave, it’s time to get dressed. You throw on your best … sweatpants, New Balances and “Everybody loves a Jewish boy” T-shirt and head into the office.
NBA commissioner David Stern recently introduced a policy that will mandate that all athletes dress in business casual attire while at NBA events such as press conferences and before game time. In addition, players will no longer be allowed to wear headphones, excluding the team bus and airplanes, or sunglasses inside. From the reaction inside the league it would seem as though Stern ordered all players to wear green goggles with flowers on the lenses. Ok, well maybe some players (think Dennis Rodman) would’ve liked that, but the league’s new policy is not as bad as it is being made out to be.
The outcry over wearing socially acceptable clothes is another example of the immaturity of many players in the NBA. Is it socially acceptable behavior to strangle a coach? I’d say not. You’d be hard pressed to find executives that make $750,000 or more at Bear Stearns who have choked their boss or said their $15 million salary isn’t enough to feed their family, like Latrell Spreewell contended last year.
While players’ dress on the bench and at events may not directly affect their playing capabilities, poor behavior has hurt ratings. The most glaring statistic is the 45 percent decline in All-Star Game viewership over the past 15 years.
Players are working for a huge corporation that wants to repair what it feels is a tarnished image. The league gets $400 million from ESPN/ABC and $366 million from TNT. In a league where television contracts near $1 billion and ratings are falling, Stern was in the right to take action. Currently, the NBA is third in ratings, behind football and baseball.
The dress code may not be a quick-fix solution to the league’s problems, but it may help. Unfortunately for players, the NBA needs to satisfy corporate America, which, in general, does not wear baggy jeans and throwback jerseys. Corporate America buys the luxury boxes at the MCI Center that range from $165,000 to $400,000 a year.
The moaning from players is getting old. I’ve never heard an investment banker complain that wearing a suit is asking him to change his image. I’m sure that bankers don’t wear suits on the weekends.
GW women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown’s policies mirror Stern’s ideals.
“I don’t think it’s that hard, if you have an owner or a general manager to ask you to look professional,” McKeown said. “You represent your franchise or your city and you represent your teammates.”
I have used this column many times in the past two years to argue that sports and morality do not collide. This instance is a special circumstance where the two are beautifully intertwined.
The new NBA Cares campaign was attached to the installation of the new dress code. The NBA’s 30 teams will raise and give $100 million to charity and donate one million hours of volunteering. While one of the league’s good boys, Tim Duncan, calls the dress code “retarded,” he didn’t spend one second lauding the NBA’s policies.
GW has done a very good job in insisting its players maintain their image. The men’s basketball squad is often seen after games interacting with fans and season-ticket holders. Granted, college players are still students, but finding Ron Artest mingling with fans after a Pacers game is less likely than seeing Wilbon and Kornheiser engaging in quiet discourse.
To improve its image the NBA must do more than institute a dress code. Violent outbursts at the media must be punished, off-court crimes should not be tolerated, and on-court scuffles must end.
Until then, tell your employer that sweatpants in the office is fair game.