Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver’s admission of guilt to ESPN in November 2021 warranted a lifetime ban from the NBA on their own merit. That he received a year-long suspension after numerous additional allegations of racism, misogyny and other oppressive behavior were confirmed on Tuesday is beyond travesty.
No NBA employee outside of the property could survive the sheer volume of wrongdoing uncovered by a 10-month investigation into Sarver’s conduct by independent law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz. We should draw no other conclusion than the NBA’s willingness to excuse abuses of power based on its financial standing in the league — a far more dangerous precedent than Sarver’s ousting might have been.
Article 13D of the NBA constitution specifies that team owners may be terminated by a three-fourths vote of their peers if they “fail or refuse to perform [their] contractual obligations towards the Association, its Members, its Players or any other third party in such a way as to prejudice the Association or its Members.”
Nowhere in the NBA’s three-page statement or accompanying 43-page investigative report announcing Sarver’s one-year suspension and $10 million fine Tuesday, was there any mention of such a vote, despite ample corroborating evidence detailing the Suns owner’s negative effect on the league. and its members.
Sarver admitted through lawyers to ESPN in November that he used the N-word in a player-quoting conversation, shared a photo of his wife in a bikini with executives, asked a player if he shaves genitals and gasped an employee in front of more than 60 co-workers. at a charity event. In a series of often contradictory statements, his lawyers denied numerous other allegations that the NBA investigation has since confirmed.
The video released by Sports Illustrated in November of a sexually explicit “roasted” Sarver being delivered to a memorial for late Suns minority owner Dick Heckmann simply illustrated the environment he created in the organization. The allegations corroborated by 320 interviews and 80,000 documents over the past 10 months reveal a far greater toxicity and hostility that will permeate the Suns for as long as Sarver owns the team.
According to the investigation, “Sarver said the N-word while repeating or pretending to repeat a black person at least five times during his tenure” – in a free agent recruiting pitch in 2004, during a training exercise. team-building in 2012 or 2013, after a 2016 loss to the Golden State Warriors and at least twice more recounting an incident involving a player’s family member – despite being warned multiple times occasions, including the first time, that “he could never say the N-word, even quoting someone else.”
Once, and you may be able to follow the independent law firm’s conclusion that “the investigation does not find that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender animus.” Five times, after being asked not to repeat the word? It’s deliberate racism, and we shouldn’t be afraid to call it that.
The same goes for Sarver repeatedly telling a black coach, “I hate diversity.” He twisted the incident to investigators, implying he meant “diversity of thought”, but “it was reasonably understood by meeting attendees that the coach was advocating for racial diversity in the organization, and that Sarver responded to this plea in a deliberately upsetting manner,” according to the firm’s investigative report.
As for gender-based animosity, there is even less room for interpretation.
According to the investigation, Sarver threatened a pregnant employee’s role in the organization because her “baby needs her mother, not her father”, then called a meeting with an attorney who informed the employee that the owner “did nothing wrong”. Six contemporary emails confirmed that Sarver’s screams made a female employee cry, to which he replied, “Why are all the women here crying so much?” Following the incident, he called a women-only meeting, urging his bank employees to tell members of the Suns organization “how to handle Sarver’s demands” and not “to cry so much”.
“The investigation corroborated six other reports that Sarver made comments that witnesses would reasonably perceive as demeaning towards female employees,” the company report said. Yet no gender animosity?
Eight witnesses testified to ‘crude’ statements about Suns dancers ‘crossing[ed] line. He reportedly commented on an employee’s breast augmentation. More than 10 witnesses testified to similar incidents.
Investigators may have concluded that the environment was equally hostile for all employees.
Dozens of interviewees recalled instances in which he made sexually explicit comments in meetings. “On at least 20 other workplace occasions throughout his tenure, Sarver made crude references to gender or sexual anatomy, or joked about sexual analogies.” He sent pornographic material to male employees and he unnecessarily “exposed his genitals to a male employee who was on his knees,” according to the report.
According to the report, Sarver also “made repeated lewd comments about the sexual activities of at least one other NBA player”, “made joking references to recruiting women for NBA players to have relationships with.” sexual orientation,” “made comments about employees’ sexual orientation and same-sex relationships that witnesses reasonably perceived as offensive,” and “made crude comments about Suns players’ genital sizes.”
“In another instance, when the Suns were recruiting a free agent in 2015, Sarver made a joke that the team should have players impregnating local Phoenix strippers so they feel connected to the area, giving the Suns a potential advantage in recruiting free agency,” the report determined.
This is serial sexual harassment. Call it what it is.
The NBA has banned former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist remarks he made in privately recorded conversations made public. There is no known tape of Sarver repeating the N-word, and the league could argue that Sterling’s comments were more overt, but what level of racism is the NBA willing to tolerate from anyone? one confirmed to repeatedly sexually harass his employees?
You can’t argue that the culture Sarver has created in the Suns organization won’t negatively impact the team’s current employees. Dozens of people did not come forward publicly before ESPN’s Baxter Holmes exposed the team’s toxic conditions, and many feared repercussions if they did. It’s unclear how they would react if Sarver’s behavior persists upon his return, especially now that they know he only faces a fine of 0.5% of his team’s valuation instead of lose their stake.
The sum of the 10-month investigation was confirmation that you can survive, in the report’s own words, “workplace misconduct…that involved the use of racially insensitive language.” , including the word N; engaging in unfair conduct towards employees; making sex -related comments; and treat employees aggressively and demeaningly”, as long as you have enough money to become one of the 30 NBA owners.
Is Robert Sarver really someone the league wants to represent? We should all be wondering why three-quarters of NBA team owners don’t oppose his abuse of power, if not out of fear of losing theirs.
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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
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