After reports of NBA Phoenix Suns and WNBA Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver’s inappropriate conduct in the workplace first came out almost a year ago, the NBA commissioned an investigation that Sarver and both of his basketball organizations cooperated. The investigation compiled interviews from current and former Suns and Mercury employees, as well as thousands of documents including emails, texts, and more.
The investigation revealed many findings, the first being Sarver using the N-word when referring to others on multiple occasions. One specific case from 2016 recalls Sarver being mad at a player from the Golden State Warriors not getting a technical foul for using the word during a game before heading to the office of a Black Suns coach and repeatedly shouting the word. Another finding from the investigation shows Sarver made countless misogynistic and sexual comments in the workplace towards employees of both franchises.
As a result of the findings, the NBA has punished Sarver by fining him $10 million (the maximum penalty permitted by the league). The league has said they will donate that money to organizations promoting diversity and inclusion. The NBA has also suspended Sarver for a year. He will not be able to take part in any activities for the NBA or WNBA including business operations for the Suns and Mercury, as well as not being able to attend any events. Temporary governors will be found to help run the Suns and Mercury over the next year. The punishment handed down by the league did not sit well with many throughout the basketball landscape, with many noting Sarver got a slap on the wrist. Many were also confused by the investigation concluding Sarver’s racist and sexist comments were not motivated by racial or sexual prejudice.
On Wednesday afternoon, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference regarding the Sarver situation. When asked about why the consequences were different for Sarver in comparison to any lower-level employee in the same situation, Silver noted “It’s different than holding a job.” Silver also noted that the league could not just take the team from Sarver. This brought up many comparisons to Donald Sterling in 2014 when Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after an investigation found a history of racist remarks being made on video. Commissioner Silver would ultimately call Sarver’s comments bad, but not on the level of Sterling’s comments. Several notable figures in the league commented on the league’s punishment on Wednesday. Lakers superstar LeBron James tweeted out his disappointment in the decision, saying the league should’ve done more in punishing Sarver. Suns guard Chris Paul commented on the matter as well, also saying the punishment fell short and that this cannot happen in the league again.
Sarver is one of several owners who have been in the news over the last handful of years. In 2018, the Dallas Mavericks were in the news over inappropriate workplace conduct including sexual harassment towards several employees by a former president, acts of domestic violence committed by a former mavs.com reporter, and other inappropriate workplace conduct by a former ticket employee, among other things. Mark Cuban was criticized for these things happening but would acknowledge the failures of the organization and contribute $10 million to several organizations. Cuban also agreed to better implement the policies and workplace training.
With the news of Sarver’s actions as well as the actions of other owners over the years, one must wonder what is going on behind the closed doors of other organizations and what actions will be taken going forward. The results of the investigation and punishments have shown that the owners are not being truly punished for their actions. With this issue becoming more prevalent in the last handful of years, the league must take actions to prevent this from happening again. The players on the court may be the ones who are credited for the league’s success, but those off the court keep their teams running daily.
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