If the NBA takes its progressive values ​​seriously, then Robert Sarver has to walk away

If the NBA takes its progressive values ​​seriously, then Robert Sarver has to walk away

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Amid backlash to what many have interpreted as inadequate punishment and a slap on the wrist for Phoenix Suns Governor Robert Sarver, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference on Wednesday to explain how he and the league’s Board of Governors are. come to their decision. Many have wondered if a one-year suspension and a $ 10 million fine for a billionaire was practically equivalent to about $ 100, a vacation and being able to return as if nothing happened. Many felt that Sarver, who also controls the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, didn’t need a timeout, but should instead receive the same fate as Donald Sterling, the disgraced former Los Angeles Clippers governor who was banned from NBA for life.


While Silver described Sarver’s behavior as “indefensible” and formally apologized to current and former employees victims of Sarver’s workplace misconduct, he also said that Sarver’s accident model was completely different from the situation. by Donald Sterling and therefore were not comparable.

“The situations were dramatically different,” Silver told reporters. “I think what we saw in the Donald Sterling case was blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of people. While it’s hard to know what’s in someone’s heart or mind, we heard those words and then there was a follow up from the league office and that too became public in terms of what Mr. Sterling she also later told about the actions of him.

“In the case of Robert Sarver, we are looking into the totality of circumstances over an 18-year period in which he owned these teams. Ultimately, I made a judgment that in the circumstances in which he had used that language and that behavior while, as I said was indefensible, he is not strong enough. Using language and behaving like that is out of the box in every way, but it was of a totally different kind from what we saw in that previous case. “

Sarver also objected to being compared to Sterling, telling the Arizona Republic, “It’s hard to even dignify those comparisons with an answer. There is no comparison. I have a 40-year track record of supporting inclusion in the recruitment and promotion of minorities and women, and I have dedicated my time and resources to fighting for equality and supporting disadvantaged communities. I am proud of the Suns organization’s record on these issues. Up until this ESPN story, there has never been any claim or mention that I am a racist or a sexist. It just isn’t who I am. My longtime business associates, colleagues, friends and family will tell you the same ”.

Related: Minority owner of the Phoenix Suns asks Robert Sarver to resign with an open letter

I think it’s worth taking a moment to revisit the details of the two cases, just to refresh everyone’s memory.

Sterling, during his tenure as governor of the LA Clippers, set the record for the largest monetary payment ever made by the United States Department of Justice in a settlement of a housing discrimination case. Sterling agreed to pay $ 2.75 million to settle allegations of discriminating against blacks and Hispanics in various condos he controlled in Los Angeles. But that’s not why the NBA sent him to pack for life.

Sterling lost the Clippers after being caught complaining to his mistress, V Stiviano, for posting photos on Instagram with people of color and proclaiming that he did not want him to bring people of color to the Clippers games, namely Magic Johnson. . On one of the tapes, he appeared as a jealous man who obviously had some kind of complex towards blacks. This is in line with what former Clippers player Quentin Richardson told me on my podcast The Rematch.

“He had walked into the locker room after games with his entourage and we would have been half dressed in and out of the showers,” Richardson told me. “He used to say, ‘Look at my (black) players, look at their bodies,” in a description that sounded like a sick infatuation straight from Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Once Sterling’s audio recorded by Stiviano went public, Silver conducted an investigation and quickly banned Sterling from the league for life as well as a $ 2.5 million fine.

Silver called a press conference and bravely looked into the camera and proclaimed, “Effective immediately, I ban Mr. Sterling … for life.”

Many expected that same energy from Robert Sarver. That same zero tolerance response to racism, fanaticism, hatred and misogyny. The same proclamation that “feelings of this kind were contrary to the inclusion and respect that underlie our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league”. The same audacity, enhanced posture and ultimate stance.

But instead the NBA world watched as Silver seemed to find excuses for Sarver and his seemingly light punishment while at the same time expressing his remorse for the whole situation as if his hands were completely tied.

Roberto Sarver

Robert Sarver takes the Western Conference championship trophy after the Suns beat the Clippers to win the West Finals in 2021. Photograph: Harry How / Getty Images

It could be argued that Robert Sarver’s “indefensible” behavior for nearly two decades was far more egregious than Donald Sterling’s recording of him as a jealous boyfriend with a black inferiority complex. (The memo, discrimination lawsuit, misconduct allegations, player maltreatment, and Elgin Baylor’s wrongful dismissal suit for alleged discriminatory treatment, among other things, have not been listed as factors in which Sterling is forced to sell the Clippers. Only the audio was described as a determining factor.)

In contrast, the allegations against Sarver surfaced last November in a long ESPN story detailing numerous current and former Phoenix Suns anonymous employees who detailed Sarver’s “indefensible” behavior. Subsequent investigation revealed the following key findings, as set out in the report:

Sarver uttered the N word at least five times by repeating or pretending to repeat what a black person said, four of these after being told by black and white subordinates that he should not have used the word, even in repeating a black person. ‘other.

Sarver used language and engaged in humiliating behavior towards female employees. Among other examples, she told a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job once she became a mother; she scolded an employee in front of others and then commented that women cry too much; and she organized an all-girl lunch so that the employees of the Western Alliance Bank, where she was CEO at the time, could explain to the Suns employees how to handle her requests.

Sarver commented and made frequent jokes to employees in large and small circles about sex and sex-related anatomy, including making crude or otherwise inappropriate comments about the physical appearance and bodies of employees and other women. On four occasions, Sarver engaged in inappropriate physical conduct in the workplace towards male employees.

Over 50 current and former employees reported that Sarver often engaged in humiliating and harsh treatment of employees – including yelling and cursing at them – which sometimes amounted to bullying by workplace standards.

Ashley Silva, former employee of the Suns marketing department, said in a tweet posted on Saturday: “Dear @NBA, I know it’s not a priority for you at this point, but many of us trusted you, broke our [non-disclosure agreement], and we were traumatized once again talking to the attorneys you assigned because we thought you were going to do the right thing. #PhoenixSuns you have let hundreds of them down, ” she wrote.

Related: LeBron James and Chris Paul dismiss Robert Sarver’s free-kick as too light

And it’s hard to argue with LeBron James, who tweeted a few hours after Silver’s press conference: “I love this championship and deeply respect our leadership. But this is not fair. There is no place for misogyny, sexism and racism in any workplace. It doesn’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We keep our league as an example of our values ​​and that’s not it ”.

Could not agree more.

So the question remains, why the difference in punishment?

Maybe if someone caught Sarver on tape and leaked it to TMZ, and each store replayed it over and over, instead of Silver explaining to the media how the “totality of circumstances” turned out to be “very different”, or different standard for NBA governors compared to other league employees, we would have seen the same silver we saw in the Donald Sterling situation.

I listen to Frank Isola and Brian Scalabrine on Sirius XM NBA Radio in the mornings when I accompany my children to school. And for the past three days I’ve been listening to Scalabrine discount, deflect, defend and excuse Sarver and his actions. He used whataboutisms (asking if LeBron would be kicked out of the league for similar behavior), dismissed accusations of misogyny as “locker room chatter” and claimed that just because Sarver used the N word five times doesn’t make him a racist. All the while I thought: I wonder how many white people in America think so.

If my grandfather were alive today, he would tell Adam Silver, Robert Sarver, Brian Scalabrine, and any other white person who doesn’t understand that there is no white person who uses the N word in a non-racial way. If my grandmother were alive, she would tell him about the many decades she has had to endure humiliating misogyny and dealing with sexist pigs in the workplace and how this isn’t something women should tolerate in 2022.

If the NBA stands as an institution that has historically taken a leadership role in matters of race relations, fair, equitable and respectable treatment of women, and a safe work environment from top to bottom, no one can be above. of the law. Not even a billionaire governor of an NBA franchise. Now that Suns Vice President Jahm Najafi has called for Sarver’s resignation, how many NBA players, coaches, referees, executives and sponsors have the moral courage to join him?

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