NBA failed victims of harassment from Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver

NBA failed victims of harassment from Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver

By agreeing to sell his franchises, Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver may be trying to absolve the NBA of his own serious miscarriage of justice, so we must remember that none of this would happen without the courage to people who risked their lives. to expose his faults.

It seems unlikely that the NBA would have ever held Sarver’s feet to the fire if more than 70 of its current and former employees hadn’t revealed allegations of racism, misogyny and other workplace misconduct to Baxter Holmes. ESPN, charges which were published in November 2021. The league acknowledged that it received no advice regarding Sarver’s behavior at the anonymous hotline it established following the investigation of Sports Illustrated in 2018 on allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in the Dallas Mavericks organization.

If the NBA takes its commitment to social justice seriously, the league should ask itself: Are we doing enough to convince our employees that we are committed to making theirs a safe and fair place to work?

The independent investigation into Sarver’s misconduct, launched only after ESPN’s expose, detailed numerous instances of harassment throughout his 18-year tenure, from confirmation that he used the N-word in a free agent recruiting pitch during his first season as team owner in 2004 to corroboration of his use of sexually explicit language in a meeting in 2021. It’s hard to believe the league was unaware of Sarver’s transgressions.

Even with a 43-page report filled with evidence to the contrary, the NBA endorsed its independent law firm’s decision “not to find that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender animus.”

Commissioner Adam Silver did not cover himself in glory when he confessed: “There are special rights here for someone who owns an NBA team, as opposed to someone who is an employee.” His clarification that employees and franchise owners “are absolutely… held to the same appropriate standard of conduct” fell flat, given the paltry one-year suspension and $10 million fine imposed. to Sarver instead of a lifetime ban.

It gave whistleblowers, some of whom still work for the Suns, the responsibility to forgive and forget.

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver announced plans to sell both franchises amid his outrageous conduct. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

In the end, the money spoke. Paypal has pledged not to renew its longstanding partnership with the Suns and Mercury, should Sarver return to his position at the end of the suspension. Only one member of Sarver’s ownership group spoke out against the managing partner’s stewardship. Other league and team sponsors were ready to stop partnering with Phoenix franchises, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. The National Basketball Players Association had just begun its protest, calling for Sarver’s resignation. And Sarver finally folded.

It was perhaps the NBA’s hope all along, that the financial fallout from the Sarver scandal would provide enough pressure to force his ouster, and the league’s other 29 ownership groups could avoid the likelihood of further repercussions. resulting from the discovery process behind a potentially contentious legal battle. .

However we got here, it’s not because the NBA did everything it could to protect the rights of its employees.

It took TMZ to release recordings of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, followed by protests from players and sponsors, before the NBA issued his lifetime ban. Sterling’s conduct was no secret, given that he had paid off a pair of historically significant housing discrimination lawsuits over the previous decade. Even then, it was Shelly Sterling, not the league, that facilitated her husband’s ouster, deeming him legally mentally unfit to make decisions and pledging not to sue the NBA over his sale.

Likewise, it was the Sports Illustrated report that revealed pervasive sexual harassment, abuse and other misconduct within the Mavericks organization. The resulting independent NBA investigation found that club owner Mark Cuban had prior knowledge of an employee’s repeated sexual harassment of – and violent threats against – co-workers, as well as two acts of domestic violence perpetrated by another employee, including one involving a co-worker. Cuban denied knowledge of ‘inappropriate workplace conduct towards 15 female employees’ by team president and CEO Terdema Ussery, though the Dallas Morning News uncovered an internal investigation into the transgressions d’Ussery before the purchase of the team by Cuban.

“Sorry. It doesn’t work that way,” Melissa Weisenhaupt, the Mavericks’ marketing manager from 2010-2014 and one of Ussery’s accusers, wrote for SI. “When I worked on the business side of the Mavs, all marketing, promotion and broadcast decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.”

Under Cuba’s leadership, “many employees said the company’s apparent inaction … fueled their belief that filing HR complaints was pointless.” In Sarver’s case, the culture was nearly identical: “Employees were reluctant to raise concerns and were also hesitant to respond to HR surveys.”

As for Sterling, his racism was widely publicized long before 2014. In addition to housing discrimination lawsuits, one of the game’s greats, Elgin Baylor, who spent 22 years of his post-playing career as a as Clippers general manager, made several allegations of racial discrimination in a lawsuit against Sterling.

In any case, the NBA did not investigate or assert any prior knowledge of the widespread misconduct within it. The league should be able to explain why it didn’t act or didn’t know. We won’t like the answers, as was the case when Silver alluded to it during his press conference. Employees rightly believe that their voice will not be heard because the power dynamic tilts heavily in the direction of NBA franchise owners, and the league office is beholden to them, even when misconduct is revealed.

It took the courage of Sarver employees to come forward with their accounts as victims of harassment, Holmes’ tireless reporting to uncover the sordid details, a 10-month independent investigation into it all, and the NBA still hasn’t held up. the team owner to Account. It then took more media coverage, condemnation of players, a principled minority owner and revoking of sponsorships to force Saver’s hand.

Yet Sarver will walk with the fortunes he made on the backs of those he denigrated. As Shelly Sterling told Shelburne of her husband in 2019, “He’s happy to sell the team now. Yeah. He talks to a lot of people about it. He says, ‘You know, I had to sell the team, but I feel like I fell out of a tree and I landed on a pile of gold.'”

Surely there are more misconducts still uncovered in the NBA, otherwise a league that prides itself on being progressive would have found a three-quarters vote among its club owners to oust the worst of them. We can only hope that their underlings will be brave enough to tell their stories, because if we learned anything from this mess, there are outside forces ready to hold the powerful man accountable if the NBA isn’t.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach


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