An investigation’s finding that Robert Sarver used racist and sexist language as owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury is another exhausting entry to the list of sports figures using their power abusively. This time addressing Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, whom the commissioner suspended for a year and fined $10 million after it found that he mistreated employees over his 18-year tenure.
According to the NBA, that abuse of staff included Sarver’s repeated use of a racist slur for Black people, making sex-related comments in the workplace and inequitable treatment of women.
Phoenix Suns already under pressure after Robert Sarver’s suspension
The league’s report did not conclude “that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”
In a statement Tuesday, Sarver said that while he disagreed “with some of the particulars” of the NBA’s report, he apologized for his words and actions.
The Suns and Mercury are longtime pillars in their leagues. The Suns nearly won the NBA championship in the 2020-21 season and were among the league’s best last season. The Mercury have won three WNBA titles — and have drawn the world’s attention because Brittney Griner, their star center, is imprisoned in Russia and at the center of a geopolitical storm.
Over the last year, Sarver and his teams have been under a microscope. While the Suns and Mercury were trying to win championships, lawyers hired by the league began peering into the behavior of the 60-year-old owner after ESPN reported his misdeeds and the toxic work environment he spawned.
In a news conference Wednesday, Commissioner Adam Silver said that Sarver’s behavior over the past 18 years had been “indefensible,” but that there was no conversation about removing him as team owner.
When asked where he draws the line with regard to owners’ behavior, Silver said, “There is not a bright line, in terms of ownership, and I wouldn’t want to create one to suggest people could go right up to it.” Silver added that he believed Sarver “clearly has evolved as a person over that 18-year period” and that the owner is “on notice.”