First Dominoes Line Up For More Meaningful Robert Sarver Punishment

Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

            Recently allegations of a toxic and hostile work environment in an NBA team have been confirmed. Instances of misogyny and racism led to an independent investigation into Phoenix Suns managing partner, Robert Sarver. The report of the independent investigation was issued publicly September 13, 2022, based on information gathered from 320 interviews involving current and former employees. [1] Further, 80,000 documents including emails, text messages and videos were evaluated. The investigation found that Mr. Sarver, “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common work-place standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies.  This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; sex-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying.” [2] A deeper dive into what was found reveals some unsettling behavior. 

            Multiple violations of common work-place standards, including misogynistic and racist comments were substantiated. It was reported that Mr. Sarver: 1) used the n-word while recounting statements of others; 2) used sex-related comments in the workplace, 3) made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees; 4) engaged in inappropriate physical conduct towards male employees; and 5) yelled and cursed at his employees as well. [3] What is more concerning, and troubling is that these are only the statistics from released information, and it is hard to imagine what other instances happened that people didn’t feel comfortable sharing or that got swept under the rug. Among other things, the investigation found instances of racial insensitivity, mistreatment of female employees, inappropriate commentary related to sex or sexual orientation, and disrespectful communications. [4] Consequently, most of the Suns employees who were the object of these acts of misconduct over the 18-year period are no longer employed by the organization.

            As a result of the independent investigation, Mr. Sarver is suspended from the Suns/Mercury organization for one year and cannot attend any NBA or WNBA facility, attend or participate anything relating to such teams, represent the organization in a public or private capacity, or have any involvement in the operations or anything related to the organization. [5] Further, Mr. Sarver must complete a training focusing on appropriate conduct in the workplace and must pay a fine of $10 million dollars. Proceeds from the find will be donated by the NBA to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace. [6] 

            The Commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver made a statement in support of those affected by the actions of Robert Sarver. He stated, “The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,”.  [7] “We believe the outcome is the right one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding proper standards in NBA workplaces.” [8] Further, the Suns released a similar statement in support of those affected as well. While the accountability for his actions by the organizations were appreciated, how did it take 18 years for a toxic and hostile work environment to come to light? How were the behaviors accepted and normalized for so long? Is a one-year suspension for Robert Sarver enough? How do we mend the now inevitable distrust for the league?

Robert Sarver now states that he will start the process to sell the Phoenix Suns. “But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.” NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated that he fully supports the decision by Sarver to sell the teams.


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University at Buffalo School of Law Class of 2023
Former college softball player, now focusing on the start of my legal career with the hope that I can continue combining my love for sports with my love for the law.
Go Bills

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