Phoenix Suns vice chairman calls for resignation of Robert Sarver
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -- The Phoenix Suns’ largest minority owner and vice chairman is calling on majority Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver to resign following the workplace misconduct investigation. Suns minority owner Jahm Najafi’s sent an open letter to staff and players regarding the resignation request on Thursday.
“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege,” Najafi wrote in a letter released through a public-relations firm. “Therefore, in accordance with my commitment to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism and bias, as Vice Chairman of the Phoenix Suns, I am calling for the resignation of Robert Sarver.”
Najafi has been critical of Sarver throughout this saga, which broke when ESPN released a story in November detailing widespread claims of wrongdoing by Sarver. That reporting prompted the NBA to commission an investigation. Najafi is one of three vice chairmen for the Suns, with several other minority investors also part of the ownership group. In his statement, Najafi said he had no interest in becoming managing partner.
“Similar conduct by any CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination,” he said in the letter released through the LAVIDGE public relations firm. “The fact that Robert Sarver ‘owns’ the team does not give him a license to treat others differently than any other leader. The fact that anyone would find him fit to lead because of this ‘ownership’ position is forgetting that NBA teams belong to the communities they serve.”
The report said Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns,” but added that the investigation “makes no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.” The study also said Sarver used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job after becoming a mother; made off-color comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelled and cursed at employees in ways that would be considered bullying “under workplace standards.” Sarver was suspended for a year and fined $10 million.
As part of Sarver’s suspension, he can’t go to any NBA or WNBA event or activity. The league said the fine will be donated to “organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.” Sarver released a statement after the news broke, saying he would accept the punishment but disagreed with some findings of the report.
REACTIONS AROUND THE LEAGUE AND ARIZONA
Suns point guard Chris Paul was among several NBA players to tweet about Sarver’s punishment. Paul was critical about the suspension and fine. “I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected,” Paul tweeted on Wednesday evening.
NBA superstar LeBron James also shared his thoughts about the report’s findings. “I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this ain’t it.”
The news reached Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and the Phoenix City Council, who say they were “appalled” by Sarver’s actions. “We are extremely disappointed to learn of the awful actions that were allowed to take place within the organization and the lack of organizational safeguards to protect the victims of these acts and hold their perpetrators accountable,” a statement released by Gallego and four city councilmembers read. “The actions as outlined in this report do not represent the values of this city. We call on the NBA to take all actions required to ensure this behavior is stopped and to reform the culture that allowed these actions to occur.”
Arizona’s Family is working to obtain Najafi’s full letter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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