Social Justice Activists Demand the Removal Of Suns And Mercury Owner Robert Sarver

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A coalition of social justice activists is demanding the ouster of Robert Sarver as majority owner of the Suns, citing the numerous accounts of racist and sexist behavior revealed in an ESPN story last November.

The group—which includes members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network—detailed its concerns in a March 11 letter sent to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and on a website it launched today, under the hashtag: #SackSarver.

“We are profoundly disturbed by the reports of racism, misogyny and abusive behavior allegedly committed by Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver,” states the letter, which is signed by 10 people, representing a range of civil rights groups. “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.”

In the letter and in separate interviews with Sports Illustrated, the letter’s signatories made it clear they see only one acceptable outcome: for the NBA to expel Sarver, just as it did in 2014 with Sterling, then the owner of the Clippers, after he was recorded making racist remarks.

“They agreed to us that they were going to establish new criteria, that they were going to have a zero-tolerance for this kind of thing,” the Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the National Action Network (NAN), told SI. “So that’s what we expected.”

The NBA launched an investigation into Sarver in November and hired the Wachtell Lipton law firm to conduct it. The firm has since interviewed more than 300 people and was preparing to interview Sarver himself, as of a March 4 report by ESPN. It is unclear when the process will conclude, or when the results will be made public.

“We take the allegations contained in ESPN’s report very seriously and directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the matter,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement to SI. “That investigation is ongoing and once completed, its findings will provide the basis for any action the NBA may take.”

The league confirmed it had received the letter, which was also sent to all members of the NBA board of governors, i.e., Sarver’s fellow owners, who will be the ones to decide whether he should be disciplined or expelled.

Richardson and his fellow activists are disconcerted by how long the process is taking and are concerned the league might let the entire matter fade away without acting.

“These investigations need to be done with expediency,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, vice-chair of the NAN and chair of the New York City Racial Justice Commission. “They need to move with deliberation, but with speed,” she said, because a lack of action could be interpreted as acceptance.

Jones Austin said she’s also worried that the NBA playoffs, which begin next month, will push the Sarver matter further into the background. The Suns have the best record in the NBA and are among the favorites to win the title.

“If you just let this linger and linger and linger, then we lose attention,” she said.

Activists had quietly been monitoring the situation for months, but they refrained from publicly lobbying until now, in hopes the NBA would wrap up its investigation and move swiftly to discipline Sarver, who is also the owner of the WNBA’s Mercury. That patience has dissipated, Richardson said, due to the league’s “tepid response.”

“We just couldn’t stand by anymore,” he said. “This shouldn’t take that long. I think they kind of expected it was gonna dry up or die down. But we’re committed to it not dying down. Because it’s too egregious.”

In the near term, Richardson said he and his peers want immediate assurances from Silver that the league intends to hold Sarver accountable. He declined to say whether the coalition might step up the pressure with demonstrations or boycotts, though he did note, “We’re not going to go away.”