Sarver Suspension Sires Sober Statements

Thom Weidlich 09.15.22


The responses by interested parties to the National Basketball Association’s one-year suspension of Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, are notable for their seriousness about the serious situation. Sarver was suspended on Tuesday, and also fined $10 million for his alleged workplace behavior.

The story broke in 2021 when ESPN did an exposé. At the time, Sarver denied wrongdoing. “I categorically deny any and all suggestions that I used disparaging language related to race or gender,” he said.

The NBA hired New York law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to conduct an internal investigation. After interviewing more than 300 people, the firm wrote up a 43-page report, which the league released Tuesday, saying Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards.”

Yelling, Bullying

In addition to general yelling and bullying, Starver was found to have used sex-related comments in addition to a racial epithet at least five times “when recounting the statement of others.” He also treated female workers unequally and exposed his genitals to male employees, according to the report.

“Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement announcing the actions.

The report said the Suns’ HR department was ineffective; employees didn’t feel comfortable reporting misbehavior (it also found misconduct by other Suns workers). This is an important warning to people working in crisis response and communications: Systems must be in place to prevent crises from spiraling out of control.

Changes Made

In its comments, the Suns took the recommended approach in such situations and focused on changes already made. “The NBA’s findings concerning the organization focus, for the most part, on historical matters that have been addressed in recent years, including through meaningful enhancements to our workplace compliance program,” it said.

Sarver’s tone with regard to Tuesday’s announcement was quite different from last year. “While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees,” he said, according to ESPN. “I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.”

Although the fine of $10 million is the maximum allowed, not everyone was happy with the outcome (a bit of backlash has begun). “It’s barely a slap on the wrist and shows us the league truly doesn’t stand for diversity, equity or inclusion,” a former staffer who spoke to ESPN for the 2021 story told the sports publication.

Photo Credit: Phoenix Suns

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