Suns president Jason Rowley steps down, per report

Feb 6, 2023, 2:12 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 11:12 am
Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley joins The Doug & Wolf Show for an interview on 98.7 FM Ariz...
Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley joins The Doug & Wolf Show for an interview on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Feb. 12, 2019. (Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)

Phoenix Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley has resigned days ahead of the expected Wednesday introduction of new team owner Mat Ishbia, reports ESPN’s Baxter Holmes.

Rowley has been the Suns’ president and CEO since 2012 after originally joining the organization in 2007 under outgoing owner Robert Sarver. He became chief operating officer in 2011 before being elevated to team president a year later.

The president had been under fire since allegations of workplace cultural issues and mistreatment of employees arose in the investigation of Sarver, who was suspended a year before opting to sell the team.

Criticism of Rowley continued into December, when Holmes and ESPN detailed the continued employment of Rowley and other top executives despite their parts played in fostering a detrimental workplace environment. According to Holmes, Sarver, despite being suspended, needed to sign off on any firing of Rowley or other high-level executives.

The story included several alleged incidents of bullying, improper treatment of women — some pregnant — and failure to hold partners accused of harassment accountable.

Rowley, according to Holmes, is accused of cursing and screaming at a pregnant woman after he heard she complained about the organization’s reporting structure.

Later that year, in 2013, the same woman had problems having her maternity leave approved and was fired after she returned from the leave. While one of her supervisors asked for the executive team to wait until her return from leave to terminate her, others, including Rowley, pushed to have it done earlier.

That incident was referenced in the Wachtell Lipton report that concluded, setting in motion Sarver’s decision to sell the Suns.

On two occasions since news of Sarver’s inappropriate behavior became public, Rowley offered individual statements of support to defend Sarver. He first questioned the credibility of a story by Holmes that outlined the allegations eventually confirmed by the NBA’s investigation on findings of workplace behavior that included racist language, misogyny and bullying.

Rowley’s first statement on Oct. 22, 2021 said in regard to the future story: “With respect to recent reports about a forthcoming ESPN article regarding Robert Sarver and our organization, I will simply say that we are aware of the false narratives it contains, and plan to respond accordingly. This story is completely outrageous and false. It doesn’t represent – at all – the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years.

“He’s not a racist and he’s not a sexist. I will also say that reporter in this instance has shown a reckless disregard for the truth. He has harassed employees, former employees, and family members; used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up. His tactics throughout this process have been without any basis in journalism ethics or even morality.”

A little under two weeks after Holmes’ initial story on Sarver came out, Rowley released another statement, starting by saying both organizations “vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article.”

He went on to attack Holmes’ credibility.

“Today’s story contains false information and narratives perpetuated by a reporter who has struggled unsuccessfully to match the facts to a story he decided he wanted to tell a year ago. He twisted statements and circumstances to fit his preconceived narrative,” the statement said. “He broke every rule of journalism by first deciding on his findings and then cherry-picking events and unreliable sources to prop up his demonstrably false claims.

“Former and current Suns employees and members of their families have shared their concerns with some of Mr. Holmes’s tactics. We were disappointed to see that instead of relying on legitimate sources of information, Mr. Holmes relied on the say-so of a disgruntled former coach to make completely false claims and to damage our hard-earned reputation. Numerous eyewitnesses – including former Suns president Lon Babby, John Shumate, and Alvin Gentry – told Mr. Holmes, in no uncertain terms, that they never witnessed the conduct he described.

“We retained defamation counsel after it became clear that Mr. Holmes’s reporting was plagued by journalistic failures.

“We have been put in the position of trying to disprove things that didn’t happen. From a personal perspective, the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years is not a racist and he’s not a sexist. He’s a hard-driving, competitive and compassionate man, and I’m proud to work with him. During Mr. Sarver’s tenure, the Suns/Mercury have been a leader among sports teams in the hiring of minority, LGBTQ, and female executives. The language attributed to him – many times by anonymous sources – is a complete fiction.”

The league’s investigation confirmed much of Holmes’ story.

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