The NBA has suspended Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million dollars after a probe of claims of racism and misogyny.
In announcing the punishment on Wednesday morning (AEST), the league said the independent investigation found that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace 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.”
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The report revealed the 60-year-old also used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others;”
Sarver’s suspension means he will not be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, arena or practice facility, The New York Post reports.
He cannot attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices, or business partner activity, nor can he be involved in the clubs’ basketball activities or governance.
The league has also ordered Sarver to complete a training program “focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace.” The NBA said the $10 million fine is the maximum permitted by the league’s constitution and by-laws and will be donated “to organisations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.”
The NBA commissioned the independent investigation of Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, in November of 2021 after ESPN published an article citing more than 70 Suns employees who alleged Sarver had created a “toxic” work environment in 17 years as owner of the club.
Sarver denied the allegations and said at the time he welcomed the investigation, which was conducted by the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
“Good leadership requires accountability,” Sarver said in a statement on Tuesday released through the Suns.
“For the Suns and Mercury organisations, that begins with me.
“While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologise for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.”
The NBA said the investigation included interviews with 320 people, including current and former employees of the Suns as well as Sarver himself.
More than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos were also scrutinised and the league said Sarver and the clubs co-operated fully with the process.
It found that the owner, whose net worth was estimated this year to be worth up to $800 million, also “engaged in instances if inequitable conduct toward female employees, made sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
The probe also substantiated instances of workplace misconduct by other Suns employees “that were not directly related to Sarver and a lack of proper organisational policies and controls,” the league said.
The league noted that most of the employees who were implicated in misconduct are no longer employed by the Suns, and in July 2021 the club hired a new head of Human Resources who has implemented new policies to improve the workplace culture and give employees an effective means of reporting misconduct.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement: “The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing.
“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.
“I am hopeful that the NBA community will use this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people everywhere and the values of equality, respect and inclusion that it strives to represent.
“Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognise the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behaviour. On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologise to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better.”
— with AFP