The NBA has suspended and fined the owner of its Phoenix Suns franchise – and its sister team the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury – Robert Sarver over racist and sexist remarks that he made in the past. The decision to impose this punishment came after the NBA conducted an extensive investigation over the team and its owner’s activities going back as far as 18 years.
The fine is $10 million, the highest amount allowed under the NBA’s rules. The NBA said that it will donate these funds to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.
The 60-year-old Robert Sarver is a Jewish businessman who made his fortune in real estate.
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Last October, an ESPN report revealed that NBA officials were already investigating Robert Sarver for possible violations of its rules of conduct due to racist and sexist comments he made, Sports Illustrated acquired and released the full video tape in which Sarver makes repeated sexually explicit comments that many say are sexist and misogynistic.
One recorded incident of his actions is a video of Robert Sarver giving a memorial “roast” of Dick Heckmann, a minority owner of the team. It came out after Sarver made numerous denials of the accusations made against him. He had told the Arizona Republic, “It is just not who I am, and it is directly contrary to the values at the center of the Suns organization. I am devastated that these false attacks are what our fans will associate with this organization that I love.”
On Heckman’s kids, Sarver said, “We’d just bought the team in June of 2004. My biggest concerns were ticket sales, sponsorship revenue, trying to sign some players, get a winning record—what I really know is my biggest concern was the Heckmann boys were fucking their way through the cheerleading team. And Dick was chasing everything that moved in Scottsdale.”
The NBA suspended Robert Sarver for one year. Sarver will not be allowed to be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, arena, or practice facility, attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices, or business partner activity, for the duration of his suspension.
Robert Sarver is also prohibited from representing wither team in any public or private capacity, to have any involvement with the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury, or having any involvement in the business, governance, or activities of either the NBA or WNBA, including attending or participating in meetings of either league’s Board (and their associated Board committees).
The NBA also required that Robert Sarver undergo a training program focused on “respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace” before he can return to business as usual after the suspension ends.
The NBA said that its investigation made the following key findings:
Mr. Sarver, on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization, repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others.
Mr. Sarver engaged in inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.
Mr. Sarver engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees, including by yelling and cursing at them.
“The independent investigation also substantiated instances of workplace misconduct by Suns employees that were not directly related to Mr. Sarver and a lack of proper organizational policies and controls,” added the NBA. “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. The investigation also concluded that the Suns’ Human Resources function was historically ineffective and not a trusted resource for employees who were subjected to acts of improper workplace conduct.”