Rev. Al Sharpton calls on the NBA to remove Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver
American civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton called on the NBA to end its investigation into the Phoenix Suns' owner Robert Sarver and remove him.
With the league's ongoing investigation into the franchise's workplace conduct having taken months, there are now calls for a conclusion and the outright removal of the owner.
Rev. Al Sharpton calls for Robert Sarver's removal
According to reports on Saturday, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton openly called for the NBA to bring an end to its investigation into the Phoenix Suns' workplace environment and in turn remove majority owner Robert Sarver from his position. Sharpton also gave the league the option to at least declare a timeframe for the conclusion of the investigation, or he could potentially bring demonstrations to Phoenix itself.
Speaking at the New York City headquarters for the National Action Network - founded by Sharpton in 1991 - Sharpton was clear. "The owner of the Suns was revealed in the ESPN story last November - how Sarver, the principal owner of the Phoenix Suns, made all these racist and misogynist statements. And [the NBA] said they were going to investigate it. Well, how long does it take for an investigation when you have videos and people that come forward? I put the call in [Friday] to the NBA that we want them to close the investigation and remove [Sarver] or tell us the timetable by the convention." Sharpton is of course referring to the annual convention held by the NAN, which will take place in New York City between April 6th and 9th.
Sharpton went further in his call saying, "We are not going to allow people to affect the culture of the NFL or the NBA and insult us and act like that's acceptable behavior. They think, because it was November, everybody forgets about it, and that's why we wanted to put that pressure on. So we are, on the Phoenix Suns."
Where is the NBA's investigation now?
With Sharpton now bringing direct public pressure to both the league and the franchise, one might think the process would be expediated, however, the NBA has remained firm in their stance that due diligence must take place. League spokesperson Mike Bass said on Saturday the investigation is "ongoing and will take the time necessary to complete a thorough and comprehensive review of the matter." The investigation is being conducted by the the Wachtell Lipton law firm. Bass concluded by saying any potential action by the league would not occur until after the investigation's completion.
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Why are the Suns and Sarver being investigated?
As mentioned earlier, the NBA initiated an investigation into the Suns and Sarver in early November 2021. The announcement came just hours after the aforementioned ESPN story was published, which was the product of interviews with more than 70 current and former employees whose testimony largely painted a picture of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace during Sarver's 17-year period as owner of the franchise. Since that time Sarver has denied the majority of the allegations levelled at him by former employees.
Subsequent to that, it is understood that Wachtell Lipton law firm has conducted interviews of their own with more than 300 individuals. Attorneys have also had access to various types of documentation, such as emails and human resources records. Interestingly the New York based firm has previously been responsible for similar investigations into the LA Clippers and Atlanta Hawks. Sarver for his part has remained resolute in his stance. "The story contains outright lies about me that bear no resemblance to my values or who I am as a person," Sarver said in a statement. "After these lies surfaced, I welcomed the NBA's investigation and I have cooperated throughout every step of the process. In our country, and in our league, we require due process. This means that the investigation must be complete before any conclusions are reached about what actually happened."
How does Sharpton vs the Suns play out?
It should be noted that this is no knee jerk reaction. Sharpton had previously formed a new coalition of civil rights activists, including members of his own National Action Network, after which the group sent a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on March 11th. The letter was also addressed to the NBA's board of governers and in it, a direct call was made for Sarver's removal. "We are profoundly disturbed by the reports of racism, misogyny and abusive behavior allegedly committed by Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver," stated the letter from the 10-person group, which announced itself as the American Sports Accountability Project. Going further the letter also said, "There is zero tolerance for such behavior in today's society, and we expect the NBA and its leadership to hold Mr. Sarver accountable for these despicable actions, as was done in the case of Donald Sterling."
Back in 2014 it was indeed Sharpton who was part of a delegation that met with Silver in an effort to push for a speedy resolution to the investigation into Donald Sterling. The former Clippers owner was accused at the time and subsequently banned from the league for racist comments about players, that were recorded in a private conversation and eventually released to the public. Interestingly the American Sports Accountability Project, or ASAP, also launched a website and a social media hashtag in its campaign: #SackSarver.