How sports can 'get back onside': Richard Parsons

Dick Parsons: Sports ownership ultimate toy

Professional sports leagues need to realize that "the line has moved" on what society deems as appropriate and take action, said Richard Parsons, whose time as interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers is winding down.

"If you always play everything up to the line, when the line moves you're going to get caught off base sometime," the former Citigroup and Time Warner chairman said Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Parsons was appointed by the NBA in May to run the Clippers after owner Donald Sterling was ousted for making racist remarks.

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The team recently sold for a record $2 billion to Steve Ballmer—who told CNBC in an interview that aired Thursday that he's excited to take on this new challenge. Parsons said the former Microsoft CEO will be a great owner. "[Ballmer] cares about winning. He cares about the fans and they're going to feel the love."

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Before the Clippers, Parsons had a connection to the NBA because Time Warner once owned the Atlanta Hawks. The media company sold the team in 2004 to current controlling owner Bruce Levenson. The Hawks are back up for sale after Levenson's racially insensitive comments in a 2012 email surfaced.

"The leagues ... need to take measure of where society is now and get back onside," Parsons said. "It didn't just happen in basketball. It's happening in other sports right now."

The NFL is dealing with the fallout from the handling of domestic violence cases involving star players including Ray Rice. There have been calls for Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign, while league sponsors are expressing their distaste.

Parsons believes the NBA is setting the right example. "To his credit, [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver sort of stepped up and set the high water mark in terms of 'OK, new sheriff in town, times have changed. We're not tolerating certain things and we're going to take tough action.' And he did."

That action was evident in the pressure that led to the decisions to sell the Clippers and the Hawks. Silver also banned Sterling from the NBA for life, and fined the former owner $2.5 million.