Phoenix Suns minority owner Jahm Najafi called on majority owner Robert Sarver to resign from his position following the NBA’s suspension of the basketball executive after an investigation into racist and misogynistic remarks.
The NBA suspended Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million after the NBA’s investigation into claims of a toxic work environment found he “repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others” at least five times and “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and, on several occasions, engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
Najafi released an open letter to the players and employees of the Suns Thursday.
“Due to the NBA’s investigation and findings, I have no choice but to speak up on behalf of the hundreds of you who have been impacted by your interactions with Robert Sarver and the resulting investigation of his conduct,” the letter stated. “I first and foremost want to give my deepest thanks to all of you who garnered the courage to share your experiences, as difficult as it may have been, to help piece together a clearer picture of what work life must have been like for you over these past 18 years.
“There should be zero tolerance for discriminatory actions of any level, in any setting, let alone a professional one. There is no question that the findings determined that Mr. Sarver’s lewd, misogynist and racist conduct had a substantial negative impact on you and has no place in our society. The report confirmed by multiple eyewitnesses that Robert Sarver used the ‘N-word’ at least five times. The report confirmed Sarver made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and made inappropriate workplace physical conduct toward male employees.
“Words and actions matter.
“Similar conduct by an CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination. 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 his ‘ownership’ position is forgetting that NBA teams belong to the communities they serve. Team investors are merely temporary stewards.
“If we, as sports leaders, are not held to the same standards, then how can we expect a functional society with integrity and respect on any level? We owe it to you: employees, players, partners and your families to provide the same positive workplace environment we would require of any other business.
“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege. 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. While I have no interest in becoming managing partner, I will work tirelessly to ensure the next team steward treats all stakeholders with dignity, professionalism and respect.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday there was a difference between the Donald Sterling case, in which he was heard on tape making racist comments, and the Sarver case.
The Sterling investigation before Silver’s announcement of a lifetime ban took three days. The investigation into Sarver was more extensive, having been conducted over the course of about 10 months, involving 80,000 documents and other materials.
“This case is very different,” Silver said of the Sarver probe. “It’s not that one was captured on tape and the other isn’t. … Mr. Sarver ultimately acknowledged his behavior.”
Silver’s decision not to impose stiffer punishment for Sarver received backlash from LeBron James and Chris Paul.
Sarver acknowledged the discipline in a separate statement.
“Good leadership requires accountability. For the Suns and Mercury organizations, that begins with me,” Sarver said. “While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.