ESPN’s report on Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver is as damning as the Suns hinted it was going to be in their initial denial about everything that was going to be in it.
The team’s objections were not legally strong enough to prevent Baxter Holmes’ story from being published on Thursday. Holmes talked to former Suns coach Earl Watson, who is quoted directly in this story, as well as “multiple current and former” Suns employees, many of whom remained anonymous.
There are several accusations made by Watson, and others who have worked for the team, all centering on an abominable, offensive, and unsafe workplace captained by Sarver. Watson claims Sarver privately used the N-word multiple times in a conversation about Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green’s use of the word on the court. Through his legal team, Sarver denied this accusation, and others surrounding his use of the word — including the claim that, when explaining to a Suns staffer why he hired Lindsey Hunter over Dan Majerle as coach in 2013, Sarver said, “These [N-words] need an [N-word].”
Suns employees also accused team ownership of fostering a workplace that is toxic, and at times hazardous, toward women. One former staffer alleged that she was physically assaulted outside of the building by a man who worked in the cubicle next to her. One of her female coworkers reported the assault to HR, and the solution was to move her workspace to an opposite row of desks. The Suns’ response to ESPN was that neither the man or the woman involved in the situation had spoken to HR about it, and at no time was a desk moved to “resolve the domestic issue that they were having.”
There is one accusation in this story that Sarver admits to, and issues a formal apology. It happened in front of allegedly 60 people.
David Bozdin was a 25-year-old account executive with the Suns during the summer 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge craze. When the Suns were putting their video together, Sarver pantsed Bozdin in front of everyone. Take a few seconds and let it register in your mind that the head of a multibillion-dollar company forcibly removed clothing from an employee’s body. Sarver, in an apology issued through his lawyers, characterized the incident as a “misguided attempt at humor.”
We’re going to stay here for a bit, since this particular incident seems inarguable.
Even in the early 2000s, pantsing another student at school could earn a suspension. A place that a child legally has to be at can forbid a child from entering the property for committing such an offense. Sarver, a full grown adult male, in his 50s at the time, felt so comfortable in his power as owner of the Suns — and had such a “misguided” sense of humor — that pantsing someone at a company event felt appropriate to him in the moment.
In my opinion, this offense alone is worse than the entire recorded phone conversation that resulted in former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being forced to sell the team. He told his then-mistress that she was making him look bad when seen at Clippers games with Black people. Hearing an octogenarian, who was already a known racist, make those statements was too much for the world to take, and he was forced out.
Imagine if this story wasn’t published, but instead a video went viral of Sarver putting his hands on someone’s trousers and removing them, given the reputation that he had prior to today. The video would be in the A Block not only on First Take and Undisputed, but also on Today and TMZ Live.
Of course, other NBA owners will shiver at the thought of two owners losing their teams in less than 10 years, but this type of behavior must not be tolerated. It is impossible to remove years of institutionalized racism and misogyny from the minds of older white men, but a line has to be drawn at the extreme.
An owner feeling comfortable pantsing an employee can create the type of culture where a video coordinator could sexually abuse a young player, or an assistant coach could be with children in a shower. “Hey if I want to do something, why not? Who cares if I’m violating another person’s humanity. I’m in charge here.”
The NBA has an investigation on its hands and how the players respond with the racial slur accusations will dictate the speed at which it is conducted, but anything less than forcing Sarver out as Suns owner would be a blight on the entire league.