Contributor, Sports and Fitness Network
Both Griner and Johnson were suspended seven games each by the WNBA as a result of the misdemeanor domestic violence charge in which both parties, as well as others who tried to break up the fight, were injured, (Details from Slate). This equates to 20% of the 34-game season.
In November of last year, Charlotte Hornets’ player, Jeff Taylor, was suspended 24 games, or 29% of the 82-game schedule, after “pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and malicious destruction of hotel property” (Details from Sports Illustrated).
The charges are similar, but are the sanctions? Should there be a standard set by all professional leagues? If so, what type of standard should be set, and on what is it based; level of the crime, the charge before or after any plea deals, severity of injuries, consultation with the victim, or something else? No two cases are exactly alike, however, an almost 10% difference in game suspension, with the lower percentage being handed down by the women’s league, and the higher suspension by the men’s. Additionally, Michelle Roberts, the National Basketball Players’ Association’s executive director argued Taylor’s sanction was “excessive and without precedent,” (Details from Sports Illustrated). In the fight against domestic violence, why do some women appear to be soft?
According to an October 2014 Huffington Post article, 85% of domestic abuse victims are women. Additionally, “the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war;” (Details from Huffington Post). Shouldn’t a women’s league take a hard stance on domestic violence by having sanctions at least equal to their respective men’s league?
The WNBA is also facing scrutiny after the New York Liberty announced the hiring of Isiah Thomas as their new president, which would also make him part owner of the team. Thomas faced a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2007, when he was the coach of the New York Knicks. In October 2007, a jury awarded Anucha Browne Sanders, the plaintiff and a former team executive, 11.6 million dollars to be paid by the Knicks and its owner, The Madison Square Garden Company (New York Times). The following year the Knicks fired Thomas, and now, seven years later, the same company is hiring him again, but to oversee the women’s team, not the men’s team. Despite the fact he was found responsible by a jury of his peers for “fostering a hostile work environment in which he sexually harassed employees” (From Think Progress), and the fact he does not have a great track record as team president. Without considering the sexual harassment charges, Thomas is not someone who would make most teams’ top ten list for president. While president of the Knicks, the team went from being a playoff team, to being one of the worst, and most expensive teams in the NBA. Not the type of manager most businesses would want at the helm, but evidently the type James Dolan, CEO of Madison Square Garden, which owns both the Knicks and Liberty, thinks would be a good fit to run the Liberty.
The WNBA needs to think beyond the impact Thomas’ hiring might have today, they need to consider the message they want to send to their fans and investors, and they need to look to the future. Allowing this hire could be interpreted as condoning sexual harassment. Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for using racial slurs. The Knicks and The Madison Square Garden Company had to pay 11.6 million dollars in damages because Thomas lost a sexual harassment lawsuit and was found to have created a hostile work environment. Shouldn’t this warrant a ban as well?
The WNBA has already shown it’s softer on domestic violence than the NBA, are they going to show the same softness with Thomas? That remains to be seen, and fans can only hope the WNBA helps, and doesn’t hurt.