Beyond Sports: Sarver’s culture of toxicity

The Phoenix Suns always seem to be a fun, exciting team to watch, year in and year out. From Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire to Chris Paul and Devin Booker, their superstars engineer a brand of high scoring basketball that makes them a favorite of fans around the league.

That’s part of why I found reports of a racist, misogynistic culture that permeates the organization so disheartening. Around a month ago, ESPN released a long series of allegations against Robert Sarver, the franchise’s longtime owner. 

The number of current and former employees who were interviewed or assisted in the report is staggering, and the allegations do not seem to be unfounded, as a number of employees were released from NDAs for the purposes of the investigation. While the list of claims is long, none speak greater volumes than the countless reported usages of racist language by Sarver.

This year, a majority of players who have suited up for Phoenix are Black. Head Coach Monty Williams and all but one of his assistants are Black.

Williams, days after the report broke, expressed that “It’s hard to navigate all of that stuff when you get the article [at] nine o’clock in the morning in the middle of a coaches meeting … it’s just been a lot to process.”

Williams shouldn’t be preoccupied considering whether the person who employs him has proclaimed that he dislikes diversity, or hires Black coaches solely because he believes they can “speak the players’ language.” 

The United States’ major sport leagues continue to be plagued by bigoted upper-management who create a toxic work environment for athletes, coaches and other employees alike, and the NBA must be swift to act upon the conclusion of its investigation.

In 2014, when racist audio recordings of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling leaked, the league was quick to levy unprecedented punishment, banning Sterling from the league for life. 

Now, is Sarver deserving of that sentence? As a white guy who has never stepped foot on an NBA court or inside a front office, I don’t think it’s my place to say.

Instead, what I feel I can say with full certainty is that when deciding the outcome of the investigation, the league must take into consideration the thoughts of Earl Watson and the other former players and executives who contributed to the report.

Beyond that, Booker, Paul, Williams and the rest of the current organization must be taken into account. It is their contributions, not Sarver’s, that make the Suns one of the league’s most beloved teams.

This is what I think the sports world, in general, needs to understand. Robert Sarver and the rest of team owners and front office workers aren’t why anyone cares about sports. We care because of the players and coaches who have made up lasting memories. They should have full ownership of their careers and be licensed to work in accepting and open environments unlike what Sarver’s ownership reportedly creates.

In recent history, commissioner Adam Silver has been the best of all major sports figureheads in responding to issues like this. Let’s hope that this trend of player and coach empowerment continues.


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