Let’s start here, at the pitiful spot where Robert Sarver has asked the world to view him. Where his legacy as a community stalwart lies in shambles, done in by a callous and unforgiving society.
In Sarver’s mind, we live in a cold, cold world. And though he has apologized for his misogynistic and racist behavior during his time as the majority owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Mercury, his sorry can’t pierce what he imagines is the mob’s small, hollow heart. So on Wednesday, he announced he has started the process of selling his stake in the teams.
Humor Sarver for a minute and read through his statement, an indulgent missive intended to first drum up sympathy, then color his decision as selfless and virtuous. But his words neither line up with reality nor are convincing to anyone other than those already inclined to commiserate with a rich, untouchable boss who treated female employees like verbal punching bags and loved repeating the n-word.
After the intense blowback from the public, which included several NBA superstars, Sarver has no choice but to leave. However, he’s nobody’s victim. He deserves no applause, no sympathy. Sarver may want time to heal and earn back trust, but he has failed to understand the most obvious concept: The forgiveness he says he genuinely seeks should not compel the public to forget.
Sarver isn’t selling his teams because society no longer forgives those who repent. He’s making the only choice available, driven to this dead end by his own misdeeds.
This is a man who lit a match to his house, and thought he could return to it in a year’s time while still covered in ash and soot. But the breadth of his actions demanded consequences — more than the league-imposed suspension for this coming season and a $10 million fine.
“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together,” Sarver’s statement began. “As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.
“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible,” Sarver continued.
His pledge for personal improvement came only after being exposed. His remorse came only after being wrestled into submission. But crying ‘Uncle!’ and then muttering sorry are the actions of someone trying to rush the atonement process.
This shows no real commitment to making amends. Only the desire to get back what he’s lost.
Last month, when disgraced football coach Jon Gruden appeared at the Little Rock Touchdown Club, he drew a breath and, for a few seconds, expressed remorse for the scandalous emails that led to his forced resignation.
“But,” Gruden then emphasized, “I am a good person. I believe that. I go to church. I’ve been married for 31 years. I’ve got three great boys. I still love football. I’ve made some mistakes. But I don’t think anybody in here hasn’t. And I just ask for forgiveness, and hopefully I get another shot.”
Somehow, Gruden believes that by using his alter ego as a married man and churchgoer, he can escape his self-inflicted exile and get back into the game’s good graces.
Sarver, too, recycled the trope of a good, religious man who made one mistake. While he should ask his God to forgive him — to make him whole — the public doesn’t owe Sarver the same courtesy.
He certainly did not show mercy to the author of the article that led to his demise. Sarver may rail against an intolerant and bloodthirsty society, yet he showed his combative side last year before ESPN published its lengthy article that precipitated the NBA’s investigation. Going on the preemptive attack, Sarver complained that the story would be based on mostly “anonymous voices” and suggested it was inaccurate.
He tried to use his power and sway to suppress the truth. Then, following the NBA’s independent investigation that unearthed how deep the toxicity ran within Sarver’s organization, the initial statement from his counsel read as an exoneration.
The statement trumpeted that investigators did not find evidence Sarver’s behavior was based on racial or gender biases, a peculiar conclusion considering how Sarver said the n-word at least five times around coaches and players, though he had been advised that he should not do so, even if he was repeating someone else’s quotes.
The rest of the statement read like an aspirational mission statement as Sarver looked forward to his return as a kinder, gentler governor over the Suns and Mercury.
“This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued,” Sarver said in the Sept. 13 statement.
However, over the past week, the uprising over his behavior and the punishment NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued — essentially, making Sarver sit in timeout and taking his lunch money — never dulled. And forgiveness? At least the kind Sarver desired — the kind that would allow him to fulfill his comeback story — felt impossible amid that nagging feeling of injustice.
Sarver didn’t have his come-to-Jesus moment voluntarily. He was dragged there kicking and screaming. And he expected to find clemency there, at the spot where he exchanged his elite position for a dose of humility. But by pleading for a second chance, he was really fighting to keep his position of power. Sarver could very well mean it when he says he’s sorry, and he may make good on his pledge to emerge as a better man. Still, the forgiveness that he believes is his right does not come with the privilege of owning an NBA team.