The WNBA Players Association sent a letter to WNBA and NBA commissioners Cathy Engelbert and Adam Silver on Wednesday, requesting a meeting to discuss Robert Sarver’s punishment.
The NBA suspended the Suns and Mercury owner for one year and dealt him a $10 million fine following an investigation into workplace misconduct. When announcing the punishment, the league said the investigation found Sarver used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others” during his time with both franchises. Additionally, he consistently acted inappropriately toward employees. There were “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees,” which included “sex-related comments,” the league said in a statement. He also reportedly engaged in “inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
However, the investigation determined none of Sarver’s behavior was “motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”
“It is our understanding that neither the WNBA nor the members of our union, WNBA players, were part of the investigation,” the players association executive committee penned in the letter. “Nonetheless, we, like so many others, were compelled to read the full report. Upon engaging in thoughtful discussion and reflection, we have determined to provide the following response and request a formal meeting with the two of you and those you deem appropriate for the conversation.”
Additionally, they inquired about where the money from the fine would go, saying, “it is never too late to do the right thing with respect to Mr. Sarver’s involvement” in the leagues.
“As Commissioners, you recognize that Black athletes comprise at least 80% of your respective leagues in any given season,” they continued in the letter. “And you celebrate the Suns organization employing more people of color than any other organization. Yet, you seen to have accepted the use of a regressive animus framework to determine a white owner’s (and member of your Board of Governors) intention behind using the n-word publicly at work.
“You represent leagues that advocate for gender and health equity. Yet, your leagues support a decision that appears to cast a man’s financial support of a WNBA organization as a counterweight to his preoccupation with subordinating the women at the work around him (at times because of the very reproductive freedom for which your leagues advocate). Expressing disbelief and sadness at the findings of the Report is not enough.”
The WNBPA executive committee added later in the letter, “We understand and value redemption. People, including Mr. Sarver, should be afforded grace as they progress. But that grace must be extended only after meaningful accountability. In this instance the NBA missed the mark on this essential order of operations because he has never genuinely communicated any level of contrition.”
Hours after the letter became public, Sarver announced he is “beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”
Sarver said in part in his statement, “Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together—and strengthened the Phoenix area—through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball.
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.
“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.”
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