During an all-employees call Wednesday afternoon, held just hours after majority owner Robert Sarver announced that he would be selling the Phoenix Suns, the team’s president and CEO, Jason Rowley, addressed questions from team staff about the organization’s future; whether punishment would be forthcoming for specific leaders of the franchise who were considered culpable in a yearslong pattern of workplace misconduct; and about whether the team would acknowledge specific allegations after publicly siding with Sarver when those allegations first surfaced, team sources told ESPN.
Rowley noted that Sam Garvin, a minority owner who was originally part of the ownership group that Sarver led to buy the team in 2004, would remain the team’s interim governor as the sale process begins, giving him control over all managerial decisions for the organization, those sources said. Rowley also said that Sarver, per the terms of the NBA’s recent one-year suspension, would have no interaction or connection with anyone in the organization, and wouldn’t be attending games, visiting the team’s practice facility or its workplace.
Sarver was suspended one year and fined $ 10 million last week after an NBA investigation found that he used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others.”
Sarver also was involved in “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments on employees’ appearances, the NBA said in its statement.
Rowley told staff that it was important for the organization to “recognize some missteps” that it has had in the past, and he apologized to any current or former staffers who have had “an unpleasant experience” there.
“Leadership starts at the top,” he added, in part.
Sarver’s impending absence provided the team with “clarity” and that questions about Sarver’s role moving forward – “the elephant in the room” – were behind the team, Rowley said.
But Rowley also answered pointed questions from staff that had previously been submitted through the team’s human resources department. The first question centered on whether there would be punishment for leaders of the organization whom some staff considered culpable in contributing to years of workplace misconduct.
Rowley, who has been in the Suns organization since 2007-08, said that there were items – without naming specifics – in the NBA’s investigation report that the team would be looking into and that it would reach “corrective action” where appropriate.
Rowley addressed a question about what steps the organization was taking to ensure that it had more women, people of color, and women of color in specific leadership positions. Rowley cited recent efforts the organization had made and said they had hired a “diversity, equity and inclusion leader” who would help further.
Rowley also addressed a question, said to be submitted by several staffers, about why the organization hasn’t specifically addressed allegations after quickly standing beside Sarver when the allegations were first noted.
Rowley referenced the team’s soon-to-be-released statement, which was shared with staff before being released to the public. He also referenced that he, a member of the executive team, was addressing with them Wednesday that past incidents had occurred that “were not consistent with our values” and that the team needed to take action to correct.
The NBA commissioned its investigation in the wake of an ESPN story in November 2021 detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as owner.
In that story, multiple current and former employees told ESPN about conduct by other members of the Suns leadership team that they felt contributed to a toxic and sometimes hostile work environment. While none said Sarver was involved in those incidents, many felt that Sarver’s own conduct contributed to a culture that affected how some other managers within the organization treated their employees.
On Wednesday, multiple current and former staffers called for accountability of some leaders.
Said one staffer who participated in the investigation: “I’m relieved, I’m beyond happy, I’m empowered and I’m motivated to continue to ensure that all of the men in that organization still in power who upheld this culture are rooted out. “