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NBA ACTIVISM FORCES OUT SARVER, AS NFL'S GOOD OLD BOYS PROTECT SNYDER
The differences between player empowerment in the leagues is polarizing, with Chris Paul and LeBron James leading the charge to oust Sarver while Snyder roams free after similar workplace misconduct
The NFL is owned and operated by a country club of racists. The NBA is controlled by the activism of prominent Black players. That explains why Robert Sarver was browbeaten into selling his basketball franchises, the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, while Daniel Snyder continues to own a football team, the Washington Commanders, that has been disgraced by the same misogynist workplace wrongdoing that buried Sarver.
One creep is ruined, slammed into a bed of desert cactus by the most commendable form of cancel culture. Another creep avoids a subpoena by spending the summer in Europe on his $100 million yacht, the Lady S.
The contrasting paths of institutional pressure, or lack thereof, reflect the empowerment of LeBron James and Chris Paul — opposed to the abject fear of NFL stars who might want to challenge rogue owners. The last one who did so publicly, the kneeling Colin Kaepernick, hasn’t worked in the league since as a serviceable quarterback. That clout allows the likes of Snyder, who paid a $1.6 million settlement to a team employee accusing him of sexual harassment and assault, to more or less blow off Congress when the House Committee on Oversight and Reform wants to grill him.
Never have the billionaire NFL owners looked uglier in protecting the miscreants in their club. In the same timeframe, never have the NBA stars looked more powerful in holding Sarver accountable in recent days for his liberal usage of the N-word and his general piggish behavior toward female employees. When Adam Silver suspended Sarver for only one year and fined him $10 million last week, many of us excoriated the commissioner for caving to the men who pay Silver handsomely and not demanding a vote of the board of governors, who could remove Sarver from ownership with a three-quarters vote against him. Turns out James, Paul and Draymond Green had a plan.
Bloody up Sarver with verbal elbows and force him to sell both teams. Then demand to know why Sarver was receiving preferential disciplinary treatment compared to that of Donald Sterling, who was ousted as Los Angeles Clippers owner in 2014 after private recordings of his racist comments were made public. This was an especially bold ploy by Paul, who is in the middle of a four-year, $120 million contract paid by … Sarver in Phoenix. Did anyone think the Point God, who served as president of the National Basketball Players Association for eight years, would stand for racism and misogyny in the Suns organization even if Sarver was his boss? “Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read,” Paul wrote after details of the league’s probe of Sarver were released. “This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated. I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”
Also weighing in was his longtime friend, James. This was a double-whammy that Sarver could not overcome. “Read through the Sarver stories a few times now. I gotta be honest … Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. 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. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this ain’t it.”
Next up was Green, who finally did something productive with his self-indulgent podcast. He used his air time as a weapon against the league’s 30 owners: If Silver insisted he didn’t have the power to dislodge Sarver, Green would publicly call for a vote. “It's a little baffling to me that we'll walk into the arena next year. The Phoenix Suns will walk into the arena next year, he'll sit on the sideline and we'll just continue playing,” he said last week. “So I am going to need someone to explain to me, why is it that it was OK to get rid of Sterling, but it's not possible to force Robert Sarver to sell after what we read? ... I'm asking that there be a vote. If that's the only way, then let's see what those numbers are. Let's see what they are.”
The barrage of condemnation sparked national backlash, heightened by Sarver’s immediate absence of remorse. The Rev. Al Sharpton demanded the league remove him. NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio did the same in a statement: “Sarver's reported actions and conduct are horrible and have no place in our sport or any workplace for that matter. I’ve made my position known to Adam Silver regarding my thoughts on the extent of punishment, and strongly believe that Mr. Sarver should never hold a managerial position within our league again." PayPal, which sponsors the Suns’ jersey patch, said it would sever its relationship with the team if Sarver wasn’t ousted. When the team’s second-largest shareholder, Jahm Najafi, demanded that the principal owner resign, there were only two options for Sarver.
Continue to absorb the body blows for a year, perhaps in a cave.
Or do the right thing and sell his teams, which, as controlling owner, still could bring him $1 billion-plus as the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bob Iger circle like vultures. He’ll take the money, thank you, the shyster.
Suddenly finding religion, Sarver announced Wednesday that he has begun the process of selling the Suns and WNBA Mercury. His expectation of public mercy was typically senseless and foolhardy. Does he not know what year it is, what century we live in, what would we live in?
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness," Sarver said in a statement. “I expected that the commissioner's one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love. But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past.
“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together — and strengthened the Phoenix area — through the unifying power of professional men's and women's basketball. I do not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world. I want what's best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone. In the meantime, I will continue to work on becoming a better person, and continuing to support the community in meaningful ways.”
This was a resounding victory for the players, who circumvented the league to rub out Sarver by applying enormous pressure. If the owners didn’t have the guts to vote out Sarver — who might have responded with an airing of their skeletons — James and Paul would lead the charge. As Silver pointed out, “I think it's no secret this is a league where roughly 80 percent of our players are Black. More than half of our coaches are Black. I will say none of them maybe are as shocked as I am, living their lives, that I don't think they're reading this saying, oh my god, I can't believe this happens.”
It didn’t take LeBron long to post a celebratory tweet. “I’m so proud to be part of a league committed to progress,” he wrote. It was James who was decidedly vocal eight years ago, saying, “There's no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA. There is no room for him. They have to make a stand. They have to be very aggressive with it. I don't know what it will be, but we can't have that in our league.” What happened next? The Clippers staged a protest in their home arena, and the Golden State Warriors threatened to boycott a playoff game. Quickly, Silver responded by banning Sterling for life and fining him $2.5 million. He had the full support of owners then. This time, he let the players do his dirty work, knowing contentious talks over a new collective bargaining agreement are forthcoming. It was a cowardly approach by the establishment, but in the end, a burst of activism makes the players look robust.
In a statement, Sharpton said, “The racist old boys' club in professional sports is officially closed. A new era is upon us where it is intolerable to view Black players like property. ... It is now imperative that the NBA, both teams, the corporate sponsors, and the new owner, whomever they may be, follow through on the commitment to root out racism, misogyny and hate.”
He was sadly mistaken. One look at the NFL, where only 24 Black head coaches have been hired in the 33 years since Art Shell blazed a trail, is proof that the club is still very much alive and not well. Dan Snyder should do himself, the league and the United States of America a favor and make the same announcement, that he’s selling his team in the nation’s capital.
Alas, decency and sensibility don’t exist in the NFL’s parallel universe, where untouchable owners disregard the rules and norms of modern life. The good old boys always win. Thankfully, there is a progressive association where a racist and sexist bigot such as Bob Sarver can lose.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.