Suns owner Robert Sarver accused of racism, sexism in expansive ESPN report
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- ESPN has just gone public with its story about allegations of racism and misogyny by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver. ESPN says it interviewed more than 70 current and former Suns employees.
“Employees recounted conduct they felt was inappropriate and misogynistic, including Sarver once passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees …,” the article by Baxter Holmes says. “' The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,’” one Suns co-owner told ESPN. “' It’s embarrassing as an owner.’”
Arizona’s Family learned about the allegations and imminent article from NBA insider and analyst Jordan Schultz almost two weeks ago. Arizona’s Family Sports Director Mark McClune interviewed Schultz, who said the ESPN piece has been brewing for over a year, and it was expected to come out soon.
“I have been told within the next week or two, but that was before I had reported it was coming,” Schultz told McClune. “With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if it got expedited...I think it’ll be sooner than later because from my understanding, ESPN has been working on this story for about a year with upwards of 50 to 100 people on the record,” explained Schultz.
After word of the allegations got out, the team issued a statement saying they have evidence and eyewitness accounts that directly contradict Schultz’s claims. “We urge everyone not to rush to judgment here. Especially based on lies, innuendo, and a false narrative to attack our organization and its leadership,” posted the team in a statement.
Former employees reported that in one instance, a Suns executive had referred to a Black coworker as “Carlton,” referring to the ‘90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The employees claimed the coworker had asked the executive to stop after being asked several times to “do the Carlton” for him.
The ESPN report also says that employees, particularly women, had no choice but to lie on a team survey. Team members told ESPN that they feared retaliation or felt that the survey was worthless.
“It wrecked my life. I was contemplating suicide,” a former Suns employee told ESPN. Another staff member reportedly said, “If something happens, don’t go to HR.”
Several ex-employees claimed that the Suns organization would often settle with anyone had considered legal action, or had an issue that could lead to legal action. About a half dozen employees told ESPN that they didn’t have the energy or financial resources to consider a court battle.
Sarver bought the Suns in 2004. He purchased the Mercury at the same time.
Vice chairman Jahm Najafi was the first to respond to the report. Najafi said the report saddened him and says he’s offering his full support to hold the team accountable:
“I have been made aware of the allegations against Robert Sarver, the managing partner who runs the Phoenix Suns. The conduct he is alleged to have committed has stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable. The well-being and safety of every Suns employee, player, coach and stakeholder is first and foremost our priority. My sincerest sympathy goes out to all whose lives and professions have been impacted. I am personally committed to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism, and bias, which is unacceptable anywhere in our society. I have partnered with the NBA Foundation to underscore this commitment. The Phoenix Suns is a national treasure that belongs to all of us as fans and residents of our community. Team investors are simply temporary stewards of this treasure. It is our job as stewards to ensure everyone is treated respectfully and equally. Although today’s revelations fall under the jurisdiction of the League which decides and takes any action based on its finding, I offer my support to ensure there is full accountability.”
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