Statement: Suns owners, including Fitzgerald, dispute ESPN claims of bad culture

Nov 5, 2021, 10:23 AM | Updated: Nov 7, 2021, 12:57 pm

Part-owner Larry Fitzgerald, Sam Fox and owner Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns attend the NBA gam...

Part-owner Larry Fitzgerald, Sam Fox and owner Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns attend the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on February 08, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A dozen of the Phoenix Suns’ 18 minority owners on Friday said they “dispute the characterization” by an ESPN report that alleges managing partner Robert Sarver and the organization exhibit a racist and sexist culture.

The joint statement released by the team, which was signed by those including former Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, followed ESPN’s report of Sarver’s alleged history of misogyny and racist comments that was published on Thursday.

“We are members of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury ownership group, along with managing partner Robert Sarver,” the statement read. “We have reviewed the article published by ESPN about the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization and Mr. Sarver. To a person, we dispute the characterization of Mr. Sarver and the organization as racist and sexist. We support Mr. Sarver’s leadership and stand with him.

“To that end, we join Mr. Sarver in welcoming Commissioner (Adam) Silver’s investigation of the allegations presented by ESPN, and will fully cooperate in the investigation and any suggestions the league may have. It is our sincere belief that this inquiry will demonstrate that our organization and Mr. Sarver are faithful stewards of our employees, our franchise, our fans and the game.”

It was signed by: Glen & Lynn Carlson, Larry Fitzgerald, Sam Garvin, the Heckmann family, Steve Hilton, the Jaffe family, Andy Kohlberg, Steve Pidgeon, the Rogers family, Byron Roth, Scott Seldin and Mark Schlossberg.

Sarver and president and CEO Jason Rowley had already vehemently denied most of the accusations in a series of statements before and after the article was released.

Kohlberg, a vice chairman for the team, also released an individual statement from the team on Friday.

“I have known and been business partners with Robert Sarver in multiple businesses for more than 17 years. I have been Vice Chairman of the Phoenix Suns since 2011 and have attended regular meetings with the Suns senior management team and Robert Sarver since that time,” Kohlberg said in his statement.

“I’ve attended hundreds of Suns games in person, and I’ve had conversations with staff at all levels of the organization, and no one has raised with me any issues about any sexist or racist behavior from Robert, and no one had ever made comments to me alluding to the culture of the organization that were consistent with allegations made in the ESPN article released on Nov. 4, 2021. In addition, I have never seen nor heard Robert make any statements that I experienced as racist, sexist or misogynistic.”

Kohlberg added that ESPN did not reach out to him for comment in preparing the story for publication, adding that two people who went on the record for the article — former general manager Steve Kerr and president of basketball operations Lon Babby — would likewise not be part of an organization with the culture characterized in the ESPN piece.

Not all of the team’s minority owners are represented on the supportive statement released through the team Friday.

Vice chairman and minority owner Jahm Najafi released a statement through his own business on Thursday.

According to USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt, Najafi is the second-largest investor in the franchise behind Sarver.

“I have been made aware of the allegations against Robert Sarver, the managing partner who runs the Phoenix Suns,” Najafi’s statement said. “The conduct he is alleged to have committed has stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable. The well-being and safety of every Suns employee, player, coach and stakeholder is first and foremost our priority. My sincerest sympathy goes out to all whose lives and professions have been impacted. I am personally committed to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism, and bias, which is unacceptable anywhere in our society. I have partnered with the NBA Foundation to underscore this commitment.

“The Phoenix Suns is a national treasure that belongs to all of us as fans and residents of our community. Team investors are simply temporary stewards of this treasure. It is our job as stewards to ensure everyone is treated respectfully and equally. Although today’s revelations fall under the jurisdiction of the League which decides and takes any action based on its finding, I offer my support to ensure there is full accountability.”

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