The findings of the investigation, which were detailed in an official press release from the NBA, included instances of sexual, racial, and verbal abuse.
As a result of the investigation’s findings, the NBA fined Sarver $10 million and suspended him for an entire season. During this suspension, Sarver will complete a workplace conduct training program.
While the fine issued is the maximum allowed under NBA Constitution and By-Laws, the one-year suspension is inconsistent with the zero-tolerance precedent the league set in 2014 with Donald Sterling. If Sarver is indeed able to serve a one-year suspension and return to his duties, the NBA and the Phoenix Suns have a problem.
Flashback to 2014
Coincidentally, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry recently revealed in an interview that one of his biggest regrets is not boycotting the 2014 playoff game versus the LA Clippers that followed the Donald Sterling tapes.
For those unfamiliar with the Sterling scandal, then Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks that were released by TMZ during the first round of the 2014 playoffs.
According to Steph Curry, he and Chris Paul discussed a boycott on two separate occasions, but ultimately played the game. The Clippers engaged in a pre-game protest by turning their warmup jerseys inside-out, but no further action was taken by the players.
While Steph Curry feels a greater message could have been sent by the players, the strongest message possible was sent by Adam Silver and the NBA.
Banning Donald Sterling for life, forcing him to sell the team, Silver and the league set a precedent that there would be zero tolerance for racism. Now eight years later, that precedent has been blurred.
The league’s problem
While there are legal technicalities that complicate matters in this situation specifically for the Phoenix Suns, the NBA’s failure to facilitate Sarver’s removal from their league would undo much of what they established eight years ago with Donald Sterling.
While there are no audio tapes available to the public in this case like there were in Sterling’s, the investigation that included testimonies from over 300 witnesses was enough to fine Sarver $10 million and suspend him for a year. For now, the NBA has deemed that sufficient. Should they leave this initial punishment as the extent of their response to sexual, racial, and verbal abuse, allowing Sarver to return next season, the NBA will have created issues they promised to never create.
When Adam Silver issued Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban in 2014, he said that such behavior simply had no place in the NBA. Now eight years later, coupled with sexual misconduct, such behavior is deemed forgivable after a mere one-year absence. If this is the NBA’s new message, they have a big problem.
Consistent advocates for social justice, the NBA has used their platform in recent years to advance movements towards a more equitable society. Now faced with an instance of the very injustice they claim to stand against, the NBA has seemingly softened their stance against racial and sexual abuse.
Had they not rightfully set a zero-tolerance precedent with Donald Sterling, perhaps their failure to act similarly with Robert Sarver would not look as insignificant. But having established that standard, and done so emphatically, the league’s failure to stand on that foundation makes their professed advocacy for social justice feel less significant.
While their efforts in that fight do have a level of autonomy that allows for positive impact to be made, they shouldn’t have to be autonomous from the league’s internal affairs. If there is no place for sexual and racial abuse in society, there is no place for it in the NBA.