On Tuesday, the NBA suspended Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver for allegations stemming from a 2021 ESPN article that accused the businessman of racial and verbal misconduct. The organization slammed Sarver with a year-long suspension and a $10 million fine following an investigation into The Sun’s franchise, reports noted.
During his 18-year-tenure with the team, Sarver reportedly used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others,” officials from the NBA said. The investigation also uncovered multiple “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees.” The probe, which was spearheaded by the New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, found that the sports entrepreneur made several “sex-related comments” to female staffers, some of which were “inappropriate” remarks about their appearances. He also used harsh and demeaning language toward employees during his reign over The Suns. Officials from the law firm said that Sarver “clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and league rules and policies.”
More than 320 current and former staffers were interviewed for the investigation. NBA officials also examined over 80,000 documents tied to Sarver including emails, text messages, and videos, the report, which was made public, noted.
Robert Sarver fully cooperated with the investigation, but according to a statement released through The Suns, the businessman said he disagreed “with some of the particulars of the NBA report.”
” I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values,” the statement read, adding, “I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision. This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”
Under his suspension, Sarver will no longer be able to attend NBA games or related activities. He must also step down from his ownership role, as he will no longer be able to “represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity,” during the year-long suspension period.
Some say Sarver’s suspension isn’t enough
One former Suns staffer told ESPN that they felt the punishment wasn’t enough.
“It’s barely a slap on the wrist and shows us the league truly doesn’t stand for diversity equity or inclusion. I’m grateful to have the validation after being told I was insane, a b—-, and being dramatic. That definitely lets me breathe a little. But I’m angry. The league failed us when they had the opportunity to stand behind its values.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton applauded the NBA for suspending Sarver but urged for more accountability. “While I commend the league for taking this step, the report findings clearly show that Mr. Sarver has perpetrated egregious acts of racism and misogyny and should no longer be welcome in the back office or on the sidelines,” Sharpton’s statement read.
“I encourage the Board of Governors to hold Mr. Sarver fully accountable for his actions and to vote for his removal from the league in recognition that his behavior does not represent the values of the NBA. I look forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Silver and the leadership of the league to fight racism and abuse at all levels, and to lead the American sports community in support of these principles,” he added. Over the last six months, Sharpton pled with the NBA to reprimand Robert Sarver for his inappropriate behavior. The civil rights activist galvanized support through his National Action Network to shed light and maintain visibility over Sarver’s allegations.
In ESPN’s scathing 2021 report, former employees accused the NBA team owner of creating a toxic and hostile work environment. According to staffers, on one occasion, Sarver allegedly passed around a picture of his wife in a bikini gloating about the times he engaged in oral sex with his spouse. Some claimed the businessman treated employees as if they were property.
“The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” a Suns co-owner told ESPN about Sarver at the time. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.”
Former Suns head coach Earl Watson also accused Sarver of using the N-word in the locker room during a game against the Golden State Warriors, but Sarver vehemently denied the claim. He did however acknowledge using the word many years ago, “on one occasion” where “a player used the N-word to describe the importance of having each others’ back.” Sarver said he “responded by saying, ‘I wouldn’t say n—a, I would say that we’re in the foxhole together.” But an assistant coach later informed him that it was inappropriate to repeat the word, even if he was “quoting someone else.” Sarver said he later apologized for the mistake.
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