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Robert Sarver suspended one year, but gets to keep the Suns

The NBA concluded its investigation into Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver with a slap on the wrist.

WNBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I don’t need to recap the investigation, do I? Okay here’s the quick summary: ESPN’s Baxter Holmes broke the news almost a year ago that Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver is infamously and toxically sexist, and unacceptably racist as well.

The NBA then went dark, started a quiet investigation that lasted much longer than it should have, then finally today went public with the admission that “yep, Baxter was right on everything,” despite Sarver’s bold bluster that Baxter was lying.

The NBA interviewed 320 individuals, released a bunch of people from Non-Disclosure Agreements, reviewed 80,000 documents, and came up with these findings (from their full statement):

-Mr. Sarver, on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization, repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others.

-Mr. Sarver engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.

-Mr. Sarver engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees, including by yelling and cursing at them.

That’s exactly what Baxter Holmes reported almost a year ago, and is the kindest possible way to describe those interactions.

The NBA immediately followed up those ‘findings’ with this flowery note...

As reflected in the report. Mr. Sarver informed the investigators of his personal and professional efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, including hiring practices at the Suns/Mercury organization and contributions to social and racial justice causes. The investigation made no finding that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.

That’s like saying ‘I’m not racist! Some of my best friends are black’. Sarver might not be a woman-hater or a red-neck racist (he almost certainly isn’t either of those), but there’s at least a little bit there. It’s like he’s straight out of the 70s and 80s when everyone spoke like that with impunity, especially to women, except no one acts that way anymore because we all finally realized that “oh yeah, that’s pretty freaking offensive.” For him to continue to act this way in the 2020s means he doesn’t think everyone else’s rules apply to him.

The fact that the Suns HR department had a regular duty to get outgoing employees to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements about why they quit in exchange for a severance package is really all you need to know, isn’t it?

But guess what. Apparently the other governors — notice they don’t call them owners anymore, because someone picked up on the connotation of a white team owner that employs 90% black people — didn’t see much harm in what Sarver was doing.

It seems they only finally took action, after six months of debating, because of the public outcry. Big props to Baxter Holmes for bringing this to the light, and further to the aggrieved Suns employees who kept up the pressure to take action.

But in the end, all the NBA could stomach doing to one of their own was to place Sarver on what amounts to paid administrative leave (via their statement on the investigation):

Based on the findings of the independent investigation, including those related to Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies, the NBA today has taken the following actions:

-Mr. Sarver is suspended from the Suns/Mercury organization for a period of one year, during which time he will not:

—Be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, arena, or practice facility.

—Attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices, or business partner activity.

—Represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity.

—Have any involvement with the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury.

—Have any involvement in the business, governance, or activities of either the NBA or WNBA, including attending or participating in meetings of either league’s Board (and their associated Board committees).

-Mr. Sarver must, during his suspension, complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace.

-Mr. Sarver is fined $10 million, the maximum permitted by the NBA Constitution & By-Laws. The NBA will donate these funds to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.

-Additionally, the Suns/Mercury organization must fulfill a series of requirements for workplace improvements set forth and monitored by the NBA. These requirements, among other things, include:

—Retaining an outside firm to evaluate and make recommendations with respect to workplace training programs, policies and procedures, and hiring and compensation practices — with a focus on fostering a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace.

—Conducting regular and anonymous workplace culture surveys and responding to survey results with specific action plans.

—Immediately reporting to the league any instances or allegations of significant misconduct by any employee.

—For a period of three years, providing the league with regular reports related to steps taken by the organization to address these requirements.

—Following league direction for remediation/improvement of workplace issues if/as they arise.

That’s it. A fine that doesn’t really add up to much, a training program that he can probably do via Zoom with the camera ‘not working today, whoops’, and a vacation for a year just before his franchise probably doubles in net worth under a new TV deal sure to be inked in 2024.

And yet, Sarver apparently did not believe he deserved even that much of a slap on the wrist.

The punitive part of the process became largely acrimonious?

Sigh.


Poll

Did they get the Sarver punishment right?

  • 67%
    No, he should have been forced to sell
    (423 votes)
  • 9%
    No, he should not have been disciplined at all
    (59 votes)
  • 17%
    Yes, they did the right thing
    (112 votes)
  • 4%
    Other (please comment)
    (31 votes)
625 votes total Vote Now