During an all-employee call Wednesday afternoon, held just hours after majority owner Robert Sarver announced he would be selling the Phoenix Suns, the team’s president and CEO, Jason Rowley, addressed questions from team staff about the future of the organization; whether punishment would be forthcoming for specific leaders of the franchise who were considered guilty in a long-standing 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, under the terms of the NBA’s recent one-year suspension, would have no interaction or connection with anyone in the organization, and would not 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 he used the N-word at least five times “while recounting the statements of others.”
Sarver was also involved in “incidents of unfair behavior toward female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments about employees’ appearances, the NBA said in its statement.
Rowley told staff it was important the organization “recognizes some missteps” it had in the past, and he apologized to any current or former staff who 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 going forward — “the elephant in the room” — were behind the team, Rowley said.
But Rowley also answered pointed questions from staff that were previously submitted through the team’s human resources department. The first question centered on whether there would be punishment for leaders of the organization who some employees considered guilty of contributing to years of workplace misconduct.
Rowley, who has been with the Suns organization since 2007-08, said there were items — without naming specifics — in the NBA’s investigative report that the team would look into and that it would take “corrective action” where appropriate.
Rowley addressed a question about what steps the organization took to ensure that it had more women, people of color, and women of color in specific leadership positions. Rowley cited recent efforts the organization has made and said they hired a “diversity, equity and inclusion leader” who would help further.
Rowley also addressed a question, reportedly raised by several employees, about why the organization did not specifically address allegations after quickly standing by Sarver when the allegations were first noted.
Rowley referenced the team’s upcoming statement, which was shared with staff before being released to the public. He also referenced that he, a member of the management team, addressed with them on Wednesday that past incidents had occurred that “were not consistent with our values” and that the team had to take action to correct.
The NBA commissioned its investigation following 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 behavior by other members of the Suns’ leadership team that they felt contributed to a toxic and sometimes hostile work environment. While no one said that Sarver was involved in these incidents, many felt that Sarver’s own behavior contributed to a culture that affected how some other managers within the organization treated their employees.
On Wednesday, numerous current and former employees demanded accountability from some leaders.
Said one staff member who participated in the investigation: “I’m relieved, I’m more than happy, I’m empowered and I’m motivated to continue to make sure that all the men in that organization still in power who supported this culture are. rooted out.”