The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What the NBA did right on Sarver — and the NFL didn’t on Snyder

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver applauds the team's 107-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves during an NBA basketball game in 2018 in Phoenix. (Ralph Freso/AP)

The NBA suspended Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and fined him $10 million this week,which happens to be the same punishment the NFL meted out to Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder last year. In both cases, the discipline has been reasonably criticized as too lenient. But the comparisons end there. The sex-related and other allegations against Mr. Sarver, while contemptible, are mild compared with what has been alleged against Mr. Snyder and his organization. And the way the NBA handled its investigation of Mr. Sarver — laying out for the public exactly what it had discovered — puts the NFL to shame for the secrecy with which it has shrouded its investigation of Mr. Snyder.

The Tuesday announcement that Mr. Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards” was accompanied by the release of a 43-page report documenting the misconduct. Among the report’s findings: Mr. Sarver used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant woman she would not be able to do her job after having her baby; he made off-color comments and jokes; he, on at least five occasions, repeated the n-word when recounting the statements of others, even when he was admonished not to do so; and he engaged in demeaning treatment of employees, including yelling and cursing at them. Still, investigators concluded that Mr. Sarver’s use of slurs was not motivated “by racial or gender-based animus.” The NBA launched its investigation after ESPN published a report last November about Mr. Sarver’s behavior; the league hired an outside law firm, which interviewed more than 100 people.

The Commanders also hired an outside law firm to probe workplace practices after The Post in July 2020 published a report detailing allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment and exploitation by 15 former female team employees. The NFL took over the investigation a month later, after The Post published more damning allegations. Over the course of a year, investigators led by attorney Beth Wilkinson interviewed more than 100 people. But unlike the NBA’s investigation of Mr. Sarver, no report and no public information on exactly what investigators discovered, including details about a $1.6 million confidential settlement paid to a female ex-employee, were released. In fact, no report was even prepared; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressly instructed Ms. Wilkinson not to put anything in writing but instead to deliver her findings orally.

If Mr. Goodell thought this secrecy would help the disturbing allegations against Mr. Snyder blow over, he badly miscalculated. The NFL’s stonewalling got Congress’s attention; the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a roundtable in which a female former employee accused Mr. Snyder of unwanted physical contact and advances. Mr. Snyder called the charges “outright lies,” but the NFL hired another outside lawyer — this time Mary Jo White, former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the first woman to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — to investigate the matter.

Ms. White’s inquiry is ongoing. She should refuse to make herself party to another coverup, putting her findings in writing and insisting that they be published. Meanwhile, Mr. Goodell should realize by now that he can’t bury the Snyder controversy. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shows what Mr. Goodell should have done in the first place.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Editorial Page Editor David Shipley, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (elections, the White House, Congress, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Associate Editor Jonathan Capehart (national politics); Lee Hockstader (immigration; issues affecting Virginia and Maryland); David E. Hoffman (global public health); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).

Loading...