Robert Sarver and the Relationship between Athletes and Owners
Updated: Feb 8
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One piece of news that I definitely feel a need to cover is the Robert Sarver suspension, for a year, from all NBA-related activities and his $10 million fine. I’m on the same boat as LeBron, Chris Paul, and so many others in the NBA, and the media covering the NBA screaming that this isn’t enough.
It happened over an 18-year period that was being scrutinized. So, yes, unfortunately somehow in the U.S., using derogatory terms towards African-Americans and women was more common. But I wouldn’t say it was ever acceptable for a person who’s supposed to be a leader to behave like an old bigot. Sarver, though, is from Arizona where he made his fortune in banking. My wife and I drove through a lot of Arizona last year, and old white bigots are pretty much all you’ll see. That and a poverty-stricken stricken Phoenix with drug issues everywhere, and a nice area of Tempe where the well-off bigoted white families live.
Outside of Phoenix, pretty much everywhere we drove, we saw signs and protests (mind you this was still in the depth of the pandemic) saying Covid is a hoax, Trump won the election, Kill the democrats, Jesus loves Trump, etc. Yes, this is real, people have these signs hanging up on banners and cover their houses with them just to show a big sign to the world how mentally incapacitated and uneducated they are.
So if Sarver, his whole life, has been surrounded by these kinds of people, it’s easy to see how making sexist comments or inappropriately commenting on what women are or aren’t wearing might seem acceptable. Honestly? Arizona is probably worse than Texas regarding backward, politically incorrect thinking. So anyways, sorry Texas, but that’s the stereotype.
Coming back to Sarver’s comments and what the NBA inquiry could confirm, meaning there were many more instances of these things happening, just there wasn’t enough or any evidence to prove it. Here’s the wording from the official report:
"The investigation finds that, during his 18-year tenure as Governor of the Suns organization, Sarver has engaged in conduct that clearly violated common Suns 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. The conduct was consistent over the period—of those interviewed, over 100 individuals witnessed Sarver’s statements or actions that violated applicable standards. And the conduct had a substantial impact on employees, with some witnesses describing their experiences with Sarver in emotional and forceful terms. As set forth in more detail below, during the period:
• Sarver said the N-word at least five times in repeating or purporting to repeat what a Black person said—four of those after being told by both Black and white subordinates that he should not use the word, even in repetition of another.
• Sarver used language and engaged in conduct demeaning of female employees. Among other examples, he told a pregnant employee that she would be unable to do her job upon becoming a mother; berated a female employee in front of others and then commented that women cry too much; and arranged an all-female lunch so that female employees at Western Alliance Bank, where at the time he was CEO, could explain to female Suns employees how to handle his demands.
• Sarver commented and made jokes frequently to employees in large and small settings about sex and sex-related anatomy, including by making crude or otherwise inappropriate comments about the physical appearance and bodies of female employees and other women. On four occasions, Sarver engaged in workplace-inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.
• Over 50 current and former employees reported that Sarver frequently engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees—including by yelling and cursing at them—that on occasion constituted bullying under workplace standards."
Okay, is anyone else screaming sociopath yet?
This person seems to be unable of controlling his actions and enjoys hurting people who he sees as beneath him. And let’s be honest, a billionaire old white guy sees everyone other than other white males as wealthy as himself as beneath him. I can’t condone any of this. In a sport where the majority of the players and now at least 50% of the head coaches are not caucasian, and in a league where working towards not only racial equality but also equality between the sexes in sport has been an effort, this just doesn’t cut it.
If the NBA was the NFL or MLB, maybe a person doesn’t make as big of a deal of this, even though we should. But the NBA has a goal of leading on these fronts of equality and humanity. But, to be fair, the NBA doesn’t have the power to punish owners and force them to sell a team. Only the board of governors and then other owners unanimously can come to that agreement.
Which, let's be honest, a bunch of rich white guys aren’t going to kick another rich white guy out of their club. So, Sarver gets a tiny slap on the hand in terms of a fine and a year away from the team. But what about the players?
When I put on a jersey and go out to play a sport, I represent multiple things and people. I represent in the first place myself, my body of work, and all the time and effort I’ve put into that sport.
I represent where I come from, my family, my home country, city, or state, who we are, and what people think about us. I represent the city, country, or state I have on my Jersey and where I’m currently living. The assumption with sports is that the majority of a team originates from the area that is on the front of the jersey, and so we represent that. We also, therefore, represent the fans cheering us on.
We represent the coach or trainer who has come up with a game plan and instilled some sort of team culture and values. And lastly, you guessed it, readers, I represent in some way, shape, or form the owner of the team. I represent them because they’re the ones I have a contract with. They’re the ones who pay me for playing, and they’re the ones who really benefit from whether the team sells tickets or not and if the team is successful. Absolutely, the players do benefit, but not to the level that the organization and owners do.
That being said, I feel terrible for Chris Paul. He’s a vegan and supports doing what he can for animals and the planet, he supports the WNBA like every basketball player should, showing up to games and talking up the game of the great ladies in the sport of basketball, and he absolutely showed up and spoke out during the Black Lives Matter protests and represented the NBA well as the president of the NBA Players association.
And what does he get for his efforts? Yet another old white bigot for an owner. It seems to follow him around since the Donald Sterling suspension and sale of the Clippers, but maybe because he and others aren’t satisfied with letting these things go anymore.
So, what can we do when we have a manager or owner who we’re not proud to represent?
First and foremost, we focus on the fact we’re representing ourselves, and our teammates.
Secondly, we take the platform we have, however big that may be, just like Chris Paul, and we speak out against inequality, the different sets of morals or values. We go to work doing our best to make sure that we’ve done everything in our power to set things right.
Thirdly, we accept that this is the world we live in, and we let it go. Yes, you heard me right dear reader, we have to accept that not everyone in this world, including the people we represent sometimes, aren’t going to share our morals or values.
We do what we can with the platform we have, and then we have to take that anger, fear, disgust, and pain and say that these emotions are valid and acceptable, but I can’t do anything about changing the situation other than what I’m already doing, so how do I move forward towards accomplishing my goals, and not let this person get in the way of hurting yet another individual, me.
I can’t control others, and it’s not an effective strategy to necessarily try and control our emotions when we’re in pain, but we can channel those things in a direction that’s positive for us and our lives.
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