AAmid the backlash to what many saw as improper punishment and a slap on the wrist for Phoenix Suns Governor Robert Sarver, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a news conference Wednesday to explain how he and the league’s Board of Governors reached their decision. Many were left wondering if a one-year suspension and $10 million fine for a billionaire was practically equivalent to about $100, a vacation, and being able to come back like nothing happened. Many felt that Sarver, who also controls the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, did not need a timeout, but rather should have received the same fate as Donald Sterling, the disgraced former governor of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was kicked out of the NBA. forever.
While Silver described Sarver’s behavior as “indefensible” and formally apologized to current and former employees who were victims of Sarver’s workplace misconduct, he also maintained that Sarver’s pattern of incidents was completely different than Donald’s situation. 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 was also made public in terms of what Mr. Sterling said afterwards about the actions of him.
“In Robert Sarver’s case, we are looking at the totality of the circumstances over an 18-year period in which he has owned these teams. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that, in the circumstances in which he had used that language and behavior, although, as I said, he was indefensible, he is not strong enough. He is beyond the limits in all the possible ways of using language and behaving in such a way, but it was of a completely different type than what we saw in that previous case. “
Sarver has also taken issue with being compared to Sterling, telling the Arizona Republic, “It’s hard to even dignify those comparisons with an answer. There is no comparison at all. I have a 40-year history of advocating for inclusion in the hiring and promotion of minorities and women, and have dedicated my time and resources to fighting for equality and supporting underserved communities. I’m proud of the Suns organization’s record on these issues. Until this ESPN story, there has never been any claim or mention of me as a racist or sexist. I’m just not who I am. My long-time business associates, co-workers, friends and family will tell you the same thing.”
I think it’s worth taking a moment to review the details of the two cases, just to refresh everyone’s memory.
Sterling, during his tenure as governor of the LA Clippers, set a record for the highest monetary payout ever by the United States Department of Justice in a settlement of a housing discrimination case. Sterling has agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle allegations that he discriminated against blacks and Hispanics at various apartment buildings he controlled in Los Angeles. But that’s not why the NBA sent him packing for life.
Sterling lost to the Clippers after being recorded complaining to her lover, V Stiviano, about posting photos on Instagram with black people and proclaiming that he didn’t want her to bring any black people to Clippers games, namely Magic Johnson. On one of the recordings, he came off as a jealous man who obviously had some kind of complex towards black men. This matches what former Clippers player Quentin Richardson told me. on my podcast La Revancha.
“He would parade in the locker room after games with his entourage and we were half dressed, going in and out of showers,” Richardson told me. “He’d say, ‘Look at my (black) players, look at their bodies,” in a description that sounded like a sick crush straight out of Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
Once the audio of Sterling recorded by Stiviano became public, Silver conducted an investigation and promptly banned Sterling from the league for life, along with a $2.5 million fine.
Silver called a press conference and boldly looked into the camera and proclaimed, “Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling…for life.”
Many expected that same energy with Robert Sarver. That same zero tolerance response to racism, bigotry, hate and misogyny. It proclaimed that “sentiments of this sort ran counter to the inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic league.” The same boldness, empowered stance and defined posture.
But instead, the NBA world watched as Silver appeared to apologize for Sarver and his seemingly light punishment, while also expressing remorse for the entire situation as if his hands were completely tied.
It could be argued that Robert Sarver’s “indefensible” behavior over nearly two decades was far more egregious than Donald Sterling’s recording of him as a jealous boyfriend with a black male inferiority complex. (Remember, the discrimination lawsuit, allegations of misconduct, mistreatment of players, and the Elgin Baylor wrongful termination lawsuit alleging discriminatory treatment, among other things, were not listed as factors why Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers. Only audio was described as a determining factor.)
Instead, the accusations against Sarver came to light last November in a ESPN’s long history which detailed numerous unnamed current and former Phoenix Suns employees who detailed Sarver’s “indefensible” behavior. Subsequent investigation revealed the following key findings, as set out in the report:
Sarver said the N-word at least five times while repeating or purporting to repeat what a black person said, four of them after being told by his black and white subordinates that he should not use the word, including in another’s repetition.
Sarver used language and engaged in conduct that was degrading to female employees. Among other examples, she told a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job as a mother; she advised an employee in front of others and then commented that women cry too much; and she hosted a women-only lunch so female employees at Western Alliance Bank, where she was CEO at the time, could explain to female Suns employees how to handle their demands.
Sarver frequently commented and teased employees in settings large and small about sex and sex-related anatomy, including making rude or inappropriate comments about the physical appearances and bodies of female employees and other women. On four occasions, Sarver engaged in inappropriate physical conduct in the workplace toward male employees.
More than 50 current and former employees reported that Sarver frequently engaged in harsh and demeaning treatment of employees, including yelling at and cursing at them, which at times constituted bullying by workplace standards.
Ashley Silva, a former employee of the Suns’ marketing department, he said in a tweet posted on Saturday: “Dear @NBA, I know it’s not a priority for you right now, but a lot of us trust you, we broke our [non-disclosure agreement], and we were traumatized again talking to the attorneys you appointed because we thought you would do the right thing. #PhoenixSuns you have let hundreds down,” she wrote.
And it’s hard to argue with LeBron James, who hours after Silver’s press conference tweeted: “I love this league and deeply respect our leadership. But this is not right. 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 hold our league as an example of our values and this is not all”.
I 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 all the media played it repeatedly, instead of Silver explaining to the media how the “totality of the circumstances” turned out to be “very different,” or the different standards 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 drive my kids to school. And for the last three days I have been listening to Scalabrine dismiss, deflect, defend and excuse Sarver and his actions. He used whataboutisms (asking if LeBron would be kicked out of the league for similar conduct), dismissed the misogyny allegations as “locker room talk,” and claimed that the fact that Sarver used the N-word five times doesn’t make him a racist. The whole time I’ve thought: I wonder how many white people in America think that way.
If my grandfather were alive today, he would tell Adam Silver, Robert Sarver, Brian Scalabrine, and any other white person who didn’t understand that there is no such thing as a white person using the N-word in a non-racial way. If my grandmother were alive, she would tell you about the many decades she had to endure demeaning misogyny and dealing with sexist pigs in the workplace and how this is not something women should tolerate in 2022.
If the NBA is to position itself as an institution that has historically taken a leadership role in matters of race relations and fair, equitable and respectable treatment of women and a safe work environment from top to bottom, no one can be above it. of the law. Not even a billionaire governor of an NBA franchise. Now that Sun VP Jahm Najafi has called for Sarver’s resignation, how many NBA players, coaches, referees, executives and sponsors have the moral courage to join him?