For more than a year, the NFL has successfully concealed any specific information developed by attorney Beth Wilkinson during her 11-month investigation of the Washington Commanders and owner Daniel Snyder. Today, the NBA made public its findings regarding an investigation of the Phoenix Suns and owner Robert Sarver.
The investigation included information gathered from interviews with 320 persons, including current and former employees of the Suns and the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA team that Sarver also owns. And, unlike the NFL’s probe of the Commanders and Snyder, the NBA’s investigation of the Suns and Sarver included some specifics.
The NBA’s investigation found that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies,” and that “[t]his conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; sex-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying.” Specifically, “on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization, [Sarver] repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others,” he “engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees, including by yelling and cursing at them.”
The investigation also found instances of workplace misconduct attributable to employees other than Sarver, including “instances of racial insensitivity, mistreatment of female employees, inappropriate commentary related to sex or sexual orientation, and disrespectful communications.” Moreover, the investigation concluded that the H.R. function at the Suns was “historically ineffective and not a trusted resource for employees who were subjected to acts of improper workplace conduct.”
Sarver has been suspended for one year. And it’s a real suspension. He can’t come around, in any capacity. He also can’t be involved in the business or basketball operations of the Suns or the Mercury. The NBA personally fined Sarver $10 million.
In Snyder’s case, the team was fined $10 million. He was not suspended; he supposedly agreed to step aside from the day-to-day management of the team. He has not yet been reinstalled. Earlier this year, the Washington Times reported that Snyder has resumed his prior duties.
The NBA revealed the information about Sarver without disclosing the identity of any witnesses. In contrast, the NFL has justified total secrecy as to Snyder’s misconduct by claiming that any disclosure would violate whatever promise the league made, or claims it made, to keep everything about the investigation secret. As the NBA has shown, specific information about the owner’s misconduct can be disclosed without naming names of those who cooperated.
When the NFL announced the outcome of the Commanders workplace review, the statement contained no information regarding specific actions in which Snyder engaged.
It’s still not clear why the NFL disclosed no information about Snyder’s specific actions, or why a written report from Wilkinson was not requested. It has been reported and confirmed that Wilkinson would have recommended that Snyder be compelled to sell the team, if she had reduced her recommendations to writing.
If the facts on which that opinion were based came to light, public pressure on the league to force Snyder to sell the team could become immense. And the league would potentially have to do what it apparently doesn’t want to do — fight Snyder to sell, given that he’d possibly engage in scorched-earth litigation. He’s also possibly find a way to share with the media anything he potentially knows about alleged misconduct of other owners (we’re not saying any such information exists), who could then find themselves in a mess of their own.