NBA response to Sarver investigation avoids broader culture of racism and misogyny
By Marc H. Morial
(Trice Edney Wire) – “Sarver did not have his moment of coming to Jesus voluntarily. He was dragged there kicking and screaming. And he expected to find clemency there, where he traded his elite position for a dose of humility. But in pleading for a second chance, he was really fighting to keep his position of power. Sarver might very well mean it when he says he’s sorry, and he can deliver on his promise to emerge as a better man. Yet the forgiveness he believes is his right does not come with the privilege of owning an NBA team. –Candace Buckner
This week’s announcement that Robert Sarver has put the Phoenix Suns and Mercury up for sale is good news. The NBA and WNBA are well rid of his racism, misogyny, harassment and abuse.
But as the third NBA owner in eight years to sell a team after racist comments came to light – Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers in 2014 and Bruce Levenson of the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 – the Sarver case signals a systemic problem.
Only a lifetime ban, like the one imposed on Sterling, will demonstrate that the NBA is truly striving to represent the values of equality, respect and inclusion, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
Although investigators reported that efforts to investigate allegations of institutional racial and gender discrimination and harassment at the Suns were hampered by poor human resources record keeping, they made it clear that they “did not undertake to review individual job applications or conduct an investigation”. full review of race or gender equality at the Suns. Such a review should be done – not just at the Suns but at every team.
Additionally, Sarver’s decision to sell the teams presents an opportunity for the league to diversify team ownership. While nearly three-quarters of NBA players are black, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan is the only black primary owner in 30.
Sarver’s voluntary decision to sell the teams spares other league owners from exercising their option to force a sale, just as they were spared having to vote on Sterling and Levinson. But they will have to vote to approve the sale, and they can demonstrate their commitment to diversity by insisting on minority representation among the new owners.
It’s been more than 10 months since ESPN published its scathing expose of the “toxic and sometimes hostile” workplace that Sarver created during his 17 years as a landlord. As one former Suns executive said, “There’s literally nothing you can tell me about him from a misogynistic or racial perspective that would surprise me.”
The NBA investigation into Sarver’s conduct, which concluded earlier this month, found that Sarver:
- repeatedly used the N-word, even after black and white employees told him he shouldn’t.
- used degrading language and behavior towards employees.
- makes rude jokes and inappropriate comments about sex and anatomy.
- exhibited inappropriate physical behavior in the workplace towards male employees.
- intimidated employees with degrading and harsh treatment, including shouting and swearing at them.
Absurdly, the investigation found that Sarver – who is quoted in the report saying “I hate diversity” and “Why are all the women here crying so much?” – was not motivated in this behavior by racial or gender animosity.
This discovery reveals a disturbing lack of understanding of the very nature of racial and sexual animosity and the pervasive influence of implicit and explicit prejudice at all levels of society. To use an imperfect analogy, the absence of a “Keep out!” sign is not the same as a welcome mat. And that’s a bigger problem than Robert Sarver.