Phoenix Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi called Thursday for team owner Robert Sarver to resign, saying there should be “zero tolerance” for lewd, misogynistic and racist conduct in any workplace.
Sarver was suspended for one year and fined $10m by the NBA on Tuesday, after a 10-month investigation showed the Suns owner had used racist language, made crude and sexually suggestive comments to employees, and had bullying tendencies.
“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege,” Najafi wrote in a letter released through a public-relations firm. “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 has been critical of Sarver throughout this saga, which broke when ESPN released a story in November detailing widespread claims of wrongdoing by Sarver. That reporting prompted the NBA to commission an investigation. Najafi is one of three vice chairmen for the Suns, with several other minority investors also part of the ownership group.
Once the investigation ended, NBA commissioner Adam Silver decided a one-year suspension and $10m fine was the appropriate penalty. He said Wednesday that one key finding by outside investigators – that while Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns,” investigators made “no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate” – likely spared him a much stiffer penalty.
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Suns guard Chris Paul later released statements on social media saying the NBA’s sanctions of Sarver didn’t go far enough.
Najafi agreed. In his letter, he also said he has “no interest” in becoming the managing partner.
“Similar conduct by any CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination,” he said in the letter released through the LAVIDGE public relations firm. “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.”
Najafi’s letter was released on the same day Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego and some of the city’s councilmembers released a statement saying they were “appalled by the actions” that were detailed in the Sarver report.
“It is unacceptable for the organization’s leadership to be associated in any way with the despicable actions detailed in the report,” that statement said. “We are equally concerned about a culture that would enable these actions to occur time and again, with – at most – ineffective disciplinary action.”