Last week, the NBA gave the NFL a lesson on how to be appropriately transparent when it comes to owners who have engaged in misconduct. Today, it’s more clear than ever why the NFL opted to not be quite as open as the NBA was.
Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has commenced the process of selling the team.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN explained, via Sports Business Daily, that “a lot of private pressure” was placed on Sarver “behind the scenes.” PayPal and “other league sponsors and team sponsors that were lining up to pull away from the Suns and not be publicly associated with him,” Shelburne explained. “There was also the pressure applied by other owners and [Commission] Adam Silver.”
Silver said last week that he lacked the power to force Sarver out. However, the one-year suspension coupled with a clear public pronouncement of the things Sarver did to merit the ban lit the fuse on a groundswell — especially with prominent players like LeBron James and Chris Paul speaking out loudly that the punishment was too light. National Basketball Players Association executive director Tamika Tremaglio also said that “Sarver should never hold a managerial position within our league again.”
Sarver’s decision to sell the Suns and the Mercury surely traces partially, if not completely, to the fact that the NBA revealed to the public some of the specific things that it had concluded Sarver had done. Sarver, according to the league’s investigation, “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies.” The NBA found 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,” and he “engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees, including by yelling and cursing at them.”
The NFL shared no such specifics when issuing punishment against the Washington Commanders and owner Daniel Snyder last year. The statement from the league revealed none of the findings attorney Beth Wilkinson had made regarding Snyder’s behavior in connection with the incidents she investigated or, for that matter, whether she even believes he was cooperative or truthful during her interactions with him.
As we’ve said from the get go, if the league had published chapter-and-verse details about the things Wilkinson may have concluded Snyder personally did, a similar push may have arisen to force Snyder out. Given that Snyder possibly would refuse to sell the team, sue anyone who tried to make him, and/or potentially share with the media or anyone else who may be interested what he knows (if anything) about others who may have engaged in similar actions, the league apparently has chosen to tread lightly.
Unlike the NBA. It started with transparency, and that transparency fueled a natural and organic process that allowed the NBA to get rid of Sarver without having to officially try. The NFL chose not to activate that process with Snyder by disclosing nothing that perhaps would have sparked a similar push to shove Snyder out.