Phoenix Suns vice chairman and minority owner Jahm Najafi, the team’s second-largest stakeholder, has called for the resignation of majority owner Robert Sarver. Sarver was recently suspended for one year and fined $10 million by the NBA following the completion of an investigation into his inappropriate workplace conduct. The investigation stems from an ESPN article written last year detailing a wide-ranging list of allegations made against Sarver for inappropriate comments and workplace behavior. Clearly, the league’s punishment of Sarver wasn’t severe enough in Najafi’s eyes.
Similar conduct by any 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 this ‘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.
Najafi isn’t the first one to speak out against Sarver since the punishment was handed down earlier this week. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Suns guard Chris Paul have both released statements condemning Sarver’s behavior and the league’s handling of it.
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“Read through the Sarver stories a few times now. I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong,” James wrote on Twitter. “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 work place. 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.”
Additionally, PayPal, the jersey patch sponsor of the Suns, said it won’t renew its deal with the Suns after the upcoming season if Sarver remains involved with the team.
“PayPal is a values-driven company and has a strong record of combatting racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination,” PayPal CEO and president Dan Schulman said in a statement. “We have reviewed the report of the NBA league’s independent investigation into Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and have found his conduct unacceptable and in conflict with our values… In light of the findings of the NBA’s investigation, we will not renew our sponsorship should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns organization, after serving his suspension.”
In this situation, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that he doesn’t have the right to take the Suns away from Sarver, but if enough players, executives and corporations speak up and threaten to pull their business from associating with the Suns, like PayPal did, perhaps the league’s stance will change.