Photo Via: The Washington Post
Trail blazers’ Neil Olshey is under investigation for workplace misconduct
The National Basketball Association (“NBA”) is facing another possible toxic organization issue. The Portland Trail Blazers (“Trail Blazers”) hired an outside firm to investigate allegations against Neil Olshey (“Olshey”), general manager and president of basketball operations, after Olshey was accused by both past and present employees of creating an allegedly hostile and intimidating work environment.
This comes on the heels of Phoenix Suns (“Suns”) owner, Robert Sarver (“Sarver”), being investigated for workplace misconduct involving misogyny, racism, and sexism. The NBA and professional sports are undergoing a shift in culture. Employees are no longer standing idle as toxic work environments are fostered; now their voices are being heard. Everyone, from the owners to the lowest level employees, are rightfully being held accountable. Once invincible persons in power are now experiencing the consequences of their actions.
Investigators are investigating Olshey for his workplace behavior and mistreatment of the 2020 death of a video assistant. The Trail Blazers released a statement regarding the investigation, saying:
“The Portland Trail Blazers organization was recently notified of concerns around workplace environment by non-player personnel at the practice facility. In response, we immediately engaged O’Melveny & Myers, an outside firm with significant expertise in this area, to conduct a full, fair and independent review into these concerns and will take appropriate action based on its outcome. While we cannot comment on this pending matter, we are committed to continuing to build an organization that positively impacts our colleagues, communities and the world in which we live and play.”
Olshey has worked for the Trail Blazers since 2012, and the two-sides showed no indications of parting ways anytime soon. Interestingly, the Trail Blazers are no strangers to being on the wrong side of media coverage and lawsuits.
This past offseason, Olshey and the Trail Blazers hired Chauncey Billups (“Billups”). The hiring of Billups caused controversy because Billups formerly faced allegations of a 1997 sexual assault. Further, the Trail Blazers recently placed assistant coach Mike Palacio (“Palacio”) on leave after he and 17 other former NBA players faced charges of fraud related to the NBA’s retirement health care-plan.
However, the Trail Blazers’ issues can be traced from their coaching staff to their front office, and through their ownership. As the saying goes, “the apple does not fall far from the tree”. If there is one thing we have learned throughout the turnover of toxic culture in sports, it starts from the top-down. Jody Allen (“Jody”), controlling owner of the Trail Blazers, faced a lawsuit in 2013 concerning sexually harassing her bodyguards amongst other allegations, such as bribery, and smuggling animal bones and skin into the United States. Jody and her late brother, Paul Allen (“Paul”) — former controlling owner and co-founder of Microsoft — settled the charges (against the both of them — Paul’s allegations were far less ostentatious) in 2013.
Interestingly, prior to working for the Trail Blazers, Olshey worked for the Los Angeles Clippers (“Clippers”) for nine-years in a variety of roles. The Clippers former owner Donald Sterling (“Sterling”) was forced out of the NBA after he made extremely racist remarks amongst other things in 2014. This is neither saying Olshey had any involvement or guilt in the actions of Sterling. However, it is interesting that Olshey formerly worked in a toxic environment and is now in the thick of allegations regarding a toxic work environment himself.
If the investigation finds Olshey is guilty of the allegations against him — which have yet to be specified — the Trail Blazers will need to remove him immediately. The NBA is going through tumultuous times off the court and needs to address the negative stigma the league is experiencing. For a league that prides itself on being progressive, lately they have been anything but that.
3rd year law student and Co-President of the Buffalo Sports ands Entertainment Law Society. I enjoy writing and learning more about the intersection of business, sports, entertainment and law.