OPINION | For NBA Team Owner Sarver, a $10 Million Fine Is the Cost of a Public Lesson on How Not to Treat People | TBEN Sports


This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for TBEN Sports. For more information about The Opinion Section of TBENplease see the FAQ.

A warning to my future former white friends: never say the N-word if you don’t like consequences.

It seems like an obvious truth, but periodically we see public figures learn it firsthand. These are bitter, embarrassing lessons that jeopardize your job about how to talk to, about, and around people. Cale Gundy, an assistant soccer coach at the University of Oklahoma, thought he might shame one of his black players by reading the teen’s text messages aloud — unedited N words and all — during a team meeting this summer. The stunt went public and now Gundy is a earlier assistant coach at OU.

This week, here comes Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, a repeat offender N-bomb dropper and, since last Tuesday, the recipient of some fairly serious league discipline – a $10 million US fine and a year-long ban. . The sanctions came a year after an ESPN story accused Sarver of doing a litany of racist, sexist stunts, sparking an independent investigation into allegations that Sarver had created a hostile environment with the Suns.

More than 300 interviews later, investigators confirmed the original allegations and fined the NBA.

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“Regardless of position, power or intent, we must all recognize the caustic and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and degrading language and behavior,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement released Tuesday. “On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all those affected by the misconduct described in the investigative report. We need to do better.”

The $10 million fine is a bill of exchange for a billionaire NBA team owner, but the toughest financial fine the league allows. The 12-month suspension could have been longer, but Silver told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps that Sarver showed “complete remorse” for his bad behavior in the workplace.

Are those sanctions severe enough to bring the lesson to Sarver?

Like the NBA’s penalty options and Sarver’s understanding of the etiquette governing the use of inflammatory language, it’s unclear.

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For example, the league has received some criticism for not punishing Sarver more severely. When former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was shot using racist language to describe Magic Johnson, the league banned him for life and forced him to sell his franchise. Sarver, on the other hand, was punished with an amount equivalent to a one-year contract with Danny Green.

“Giving a billionaire a $10 million fine is the equivalent of a speeding fine,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson said in a statement criticizing the fine and suspension.

But remember that before Sterling lashed out at Magic Johnson, TBEN valued the Clippers at $430 million.

After the scandal, Sterling’s wife, Shelly, sold the franchise to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

An order for Sarver to sell the Suns would also have been an invitation for him to collect a bounty for doing another billionaire a favor by admitting them to an exclusive club. And any attempt to prove that racism doesn’t pay would be lost in the sudden surge in franchise value.

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Still, Sarver says he learned from his transgressions and the punishment they caused.

“While I disagree with some of the details of the NBA report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that have offended our employees,” Sarver said in a statement released Tuesday. “I take full responsibility for what I’ve done. I’m sorry I caused this pain, and these errors of judgment are not in line with my personal philosophy or my values.”

Let’s hope so, because the Suns are a success on the field. Under head coach Monty Williams, they have won two consecutive division titles. Last season, they were surprise losers to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals, but reached the NBA Finals last season. In 2021, the general manager was named the NBA’s best executive, and Williams was named top coach last year.

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver stands with the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns defeated the LA Clippers in 2021. (Harry How/Getty Images)

But off the pitch, under Sarver, the club sounds like a bleak, awful, frustrating, maddening place to work.

Lowlights detailed in the researchers’ report include:

  • Sarver unnecessarily pulled down his underwear in front of a male employee.

  • He pulled down a male employee’s shorts in front of the team staff.

  • Pornography emailed to a group of male staffers.

  • Suggested that a pregnant worker could not do her job properly after giving birth.

  • Bragged to a female employee about the size of his genitals.

Not to mention Sarver’s N-word usage.

Investigators confirmed that he used it.


Even after Suns employees warned him, it was not appropriate.

Learning to live with the consequences

He used it while recruiting a free agent, although it’s not clear what kind of player, in a league that is 75 percent black, would choose to play for a team run by a white who drops N-bombs .

He used it while quoting black people he had heard using it.

And he used it to wonder why he couldn’t use it, and emailed the league to complain that an opponent was using it.

“[Sarver] claimed to quote the Warriors player who said the N-word with an ‘a’ at the end,” the report said.

First, if Sarver is concerned that he cannot use a word that he hears black players casually throwing, then he complains about the privilege of those players, which is absurd. No sober-minded person thinks that the privilege of black people exceeds the privilege that comes with being a white male billionaire. If you really think this alleged double standard is worth complaining about, you may be drunk… on privilege.

Second, Sarver, or any other white person, is free to use the N-word privately, or among friends who tolerate it. The First Amendment still carries weight. For now.

But if he wants to use it at work, he also has to learn to live with the consequences.

Like damage to his reputation. And morale in the workplace. And complaints that give rise to investigations, which result in fines and suspensions.

With so much focus on his bad behavior and his punishment, it’s easy to forget what Sarver has left.

His franchise, for example. It’s worth $1.8 billion, according to TBEN.

And the benefit of the doubt from Silver, who has publicly stated that he believes Sarver sincerely regrets his antics.

And now he has a year to think about how he can be a better boss when he comes back.

As for the $10 million, I’d call it a rounding error, but it’s more like tuition. The cost of a very public lesson on how not to treat people.