Phoenix Suns vice president and minority owner Jahm Najafi, the team’s second-largest stakeholder, called for the resignation of majority owner Robert Sarver in an open letter to team employees released Thursday night, saying there should be “zero tolerance” for promiscuous, misogynistic and racist behavior in any workplace.
Sarver was banned by the NBA for one year and fined $10 million after the NBA on Tuesday released its findings of a 10-month independent investigation into allegations of workplace abuse during Sarver’s tenure as managing partner of the Suns, which spanned nearly two decades. .
Najafi, who has criticized Sarver since the allegations were first reported by ESPN in November, is one of three vice presidents for the Suns, with several other minority investors also part of the ownership group.
“Similar conduct by any CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach, or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination,” Najafi wrote in the letter. “The fact that Robert Sarver ‘owns’ the team does not give him license to treat others differently than any other leader. The fact that anyone would find him capable of leading because of this ‘ownership’ position is to forget that NBA teams belong to. the communities they serve.
“Team investors are only temporary managers. If we, as sports leaders, are not held to the same standards, how can we expect a functioning society with integrity and respect at any level? We owe it to you: employees, players, partners, and your families to provide the same positive workplace environment that we would demand of any other business.
“I cannot sit by in judgment and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege. Therefore, in line with my commitment to help eradicate any form of racism, sexism and prejudice, as Vice President of the Phoenix Suns, I am calling for the resignation of Robert Sarver.”
Among the litany of allegations confirmed by the investigation conducted by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Sarver was found to have repeated the N-word at least five times while recounting the statements of others — “four of those after being told both black and white subordinates that he should not use the word, even in repetition of another,” according to the report. The investigation also uncovered “instances of unfair behavior towards female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments about employees’ appearances.
Najafi went on to write that while he has no interest in becoming the Suns’ managing partner, “I will work tirelessly to ensure that the next team steward treats all stakeholders with dignity, professionalism and respect.”
Najafi released a statement back in November 2021, hours after the ESPN investigation was published, writing, in part, “Team investors are simply temporary stewards of this treasure. It’s our job as stewards to make sure everyone is treated respectfully and equally.”
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Suns point guard Chris Paul also expressed disappointment with the punishment of the NBA of Sarver, where Paul writes in a tweet, “I think that the sanctions were lacking in really dealing with what we can all agree was terrible behavior.”
Najafi’s letter was released on the same day Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and some of the city’s council members released a statement saying they were “appalled by the actions” detailed in the Sarver report.
“It is unacceptable that the leadership of the organization should 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 allow these actions to happen again and again, with – – at most – ineffective disciplinary action.”
In the statement, Gallego added, “We have asked city staff to investigate any actions we, as leaders of the City of Phoenix, may take based on the details demonstrated in the report.”