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Sarver is a small part of the bigger problem

On Sept. 13, 2022, the NBA suspended Phoenix Suns and WBNA’s Phoenix Mercury owner, Robert Sarver, after a long investigation revealed that Sarver led a workplace culture full of racism and misogyny. This independent investigation revealed Sarver’s use of the n-word and many sexually suggestive comments toward female employees in the Suns’ organization.

Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, has agreed to begin the process of selling both teams. Adam Silver, along with other league executives, reportedly pushed Sarver to make this decision. (Photo Courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

To say that a white majority owner of a sports organization was revealed to be racist and sexist is becoming less and less of a surprise as the Sarver situation is drawing comparisons to Donald Sterling’s bust for bigotry, which resulted in him being banned from the NBA for life. Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, dealt that punishment to Sterling just three months after Silver had been assigned the position. Nearly eight years later, Silver acted again. This time, however, he dealt out a one-year suspension and $10 million fine to Sarver.

Although Sarver revealed in a statement on Wednesday, Sept. 21, that he would begin the process of selling his teams amid the controversy, there has been much discussion as to whether the association’s punishment was harsh enough. With the NBA and WNBA carrying the torch for social justice in sports, many people around the sports world are calling for more severe disciplining, and even the complete banning of Sarver a la Donald Sterling.

NBA superstar, LeBron James, took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the situation. “I gotta be honest … our league got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why,” James said. “There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any workplace. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team.”

James is only speaking about a smaller part of the overall problem in the sports world. Sports are the ultimate release. They are where people go to distract themselves from anything that they may be going through in life. They can bring people of any color, origin, sex or gender together for even a couple of hours a day.

“We cannot let people’s money save them from who they really are.”

To see instances of such a dated mindset be brushed aside with a measly one-year suspension hinders the opportunity for progress as a society. Making Sarver give up 1.25% of his net worth is not going to solve this problem. These types of people must be removed from our professional sports organizations without question.

Many other entities are acting and speaking out over the NBA’s weak punishment for Sarver. Baxter Holmes, senior writer for ESPN, reported that the Suns’ jersey patch sponsor, PayPal, would cut ties with the organization should Sarver stick around after his one-year suspension.

Bill Simmons of The Ringer calls this suspension a “wrist slap.”

Ja’han Jones, culture and politics writer for MSNBC, criticized the NBA’s lack of initiative when dealing with the severity of Sarver’s punishment. “The NBA is wedding itself to mediocrity by keeping Sarver around,” Jones said. 

The 43-page report that the NBA released after a nearly year-long investigation exposed Sarver’s true character.

“Sarver told investigators that he has made substantial personal and professional contributions to social and racial justice causes,” the report states, “and that he has been consistently committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.” According to the report, the Phoenix Suns employed the highest percentage of people of color in basketball operations (55%) in the NBA. Sarver contributes to the advancement of women in sports as seen in his ownership of the Phoenix Mercury. Sarver also is involved in councils, charities and initiatives aimed at helping under-privileged communities.

Despite these positive contributions to his community, over 100 of Sarver’s employees came out and said that Sarver’s behavior in the workplace “violated applicable standards.”

“Robert Sarver isn’t cartoonishly racist like Donald Sterling,” said Seerat Sohi, writer for The Ringer. “He is a modern bigot, better at hiding his feelings. He stands up for the right causes, he hires the right people.”

This is a product of the current environment in which we live. People can act progressive to maintain their current image or position, which is probably why Adam Silver is hoping that Sarver can “redeem himself.” Nonetheless, deep down inside, Sarver is racist and he is sexist. We cannot let people’s money save them from who they really are time and time again.

Until professional league executives like Adam Silver can deliver a punishment worthy of the crime, the sports world will not be able to rise above the problems of prejudice, bigotry and domestic conflict that we have in this country. 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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