During a call to all employees on Wednesday afternoon, held just hours after majority owner Robert Sarver announced he would sell Phoenix Suns, team president and CEO, Jason Rowley, asked questions from a task force about the future of the organization; whether punishment will be imminent for specific leaders of the franchise who have been found guilty of a pattern of workplace misconduct that spanned years; On 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, the minority owner who was originally part of the ownership group that Sarver led to buy the team in 2004, will remain the team’s interim ruler as the sale begins, giving him control of all management decisions for the organization, those sources said. Rowley also said that, under the terms of his recent one-year NBA suspension, Sarver will have no interaction or contact with anyone in the organization, attend matches, or visit the team’s training facility or workplace.
Sarver was suspended for a year and fined $10 million last week after an NBA investigation found he used the N-word at least five times “when recounting other people’s sayings.”
The National Basketball Association said in its statement that Sarver was also involved in “cases of unfair behavior toward female employees,” including “gender-related comments” and inappropriate comments on female employees’ backs.
Rowley told employees it was important for the organization to “recognize some of the pitfalls” of the past, and apologized to any current or former employees who had an “unpleasant experience” there.
“Leadership starts at the top,” he added, in part.
Rowley said Sarver’s impending absence provided the team with “clarity” and that questions about Sarver’s role in the progression — “the elephant in the room” — were behind the team.
But Rowley also answered specific questions from employees that were previously submitted through the team’s human resources department. The first question focused on whether there would be punishment for organization leaders who were found guilty by some employees of contributing to years of workplace misconduct.
Rowley, who has been with the Suns since 2007-08, said there are elements – without naming details – in the NBA investigation report that the team will look into and that it will reach for “corrective action” where appropriate.
Rowley addressed a question about the steps the organization is taking to make sure it has more women, people of color, and women of color in specific leadership positions. Rowley cited the organization’s recent efforts and said it had hired a “Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Leader” who would help more.
Rowley also addressed a question, said to have been submitted by several employees, about why the organization had not specifically dealt with the allegations after quickly siding with Sarver when the allegations were first noticed.
Rowley referred to the team’s soon-to-be-released statement, which was shared with employees before it was released to the public. He also noted that he, a member of the executive team, was telling them on Wednesday that previous incidents that had occurred were “inconsistent with our values” and that the team needed to take action to correct them.
The National Basketball Association commissioned an investigation following an ESPN story in November 2021 detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as an owner.
In that story, several current and former ESPN employees told about the behavior of other members of the Suns leadership team that they felt contributed to a toxic and sometimes hostile work environment. While no one said Sarver was involved in those incidents, many felt that Sarver’s own behavior contributed to a culture that affected how some other managers within the organization treated their employees.
Several current and former employees have called for some leaders to be held accountable.
One of the employees involved in the investigation said: “I am relieved, I am very happy, I am empowered and motivated to continue to make sure that all the men in that organization who are still in power and who support this culture are uprooted.”