By Harry Latto
Purchase extra rolls of aluminum foil to wrap around your heads before you read this, sports fans. It’s the only way you’ll be able to make any sense of perhaps the worst sports decision made in a long time. Isiah Thomas, NBA Hall of Famer has been appointed as the president and part-owner (pending approval) of the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
The problem? In 2007 Thomas, then a coach for the New York Knicks and president of basketball operations, was found guilty by a federal jury for the sexual harassment of Anucha Browne Sanders, the former vice president of marketing and business operations for the Knicks.
Browne Sanders was awarded $11.6 million by the jury in punitive damages from Madison Square Garden (MSG) and James L. Dolan, chairman of Cablevision, parent company of MSG and the Knicks. $6 million of that amount was for the hostile work environment Thomas created and $5.6 million was for retaliation.
Just when we think we’re making some progress combating sexual harassment in the workplace, a man found guilty for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment has been appointed president and part-owner of a professional women’s basketball team. It makes no sense whatsoever – no matter how many rolls of aluminum foil you wrap around your head!
The WNBA has worked very hard to get across the message that gender equality in sports is a serious matter. The good news here is that the WNBA’s board of governors must approve any ownership changes. WNBA president Laurel J. Richie released the following statement:
“The Madison Square Garden organization announced that Isiah Thomas has been named president of the New York Liberty and that he will take an ownership interest in the team, pending WNBA approval. New owners are approved by our WNBA Board of Governors, and this process has not yet begun.”
An important difference in the way the public currently perceive racial discrimination and sexual discrimination was offered by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Esq., Olympic gold medal swimmer and CEO of Champion Women, in an email to Forbes.com.
“Donald Sterling merely had a recording leaked where he made racist comments, and he was forced to sell the Clippers. Yet a jury found, after an extensive, well-covered trial, that Isiah Thomas sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, and awarded her $11.6 million in damages against the Knicks enterprise. Sterling made racist remarks to his girlfriend, whereas Thomas sexually harassed Browne Sanders repeatedly. Sterling made racist remarks in the privacy of his own home, while Thomas sexually harassed Browne Sanders publicly. If Thomas had made equally as racist remarks, he would never be considered for a position in professional sports, anywhere.”
There has been a deluge of astonished and angry comments from both women and men. Don McPherson, a gender equity educator and former NFL player has said that “What is even more concerning, in a time when the sports world is coming to terms with the level of misogyny and sexism in our society, you would think there would be a sense [of] understanding of the optics of this.”
With a growing cadre of high caliber professional women athletes, coaches and administrators, the cogent question is this – why didn’t Dolan hire a woman for the coaching and ownership position instead of promoting his buddy? It’s time for the public to recognize that sexual discrimination and harassment is just as important as any other form of prejudice. To create positive leadership in any large professional organization it takes leadership from the top-down to get the message across – that’s certainly that’s not being done here.
Dolan and Thomas are long-time friends. Even though Thomas was a disaster as a coach for the Knicks and his behavior while heading their basketball operations cost the company a boat-load of money, it appears that for Dolan, at least, friendship trumps professional behavior and stewardship for his organization’s bottom line. Worse yet, Thomas continues to vehemently deny his wrong-doing and Dolan backs him up 100 percent. Whether or not Thomas ever intended to do harm to Browne Sanders isn’t really the point. The fact that he still sees nothing wrong with his behavior means that the women he is in charge of, should this appointment go through, will face the same conduct from Thomas.
Powered by Compete partner, RAM Racing.