Former NBA star, recently more known for having sexually harassed an employee while coach of the New York Knicks, was announced president and part owner of the New York Liberty on Tuesday. The news sparked anger throughout the women's basketball community.
While the WNBA remained mum about the controversial hiring of Isiah Thomas on Tuesday as president and part owner of the New York Liberty — not even posting the news on the league website — the Storm’s all-female ownership group issued a statement Thursday.
Thomas, a Hall of Fame player who starred for the Detroit Pistons, was found by a jury in 2007 to have sexually harassed a female team executive while coach of the New York Knicks. Anucha Browne Sanders, who’s currently NCAA vice president of women’s basketball championships, was awarded a $11.6 million settlement from Madison Square Garden and James L. Dolan, the chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Garden and the Knicks.
The WNBA Board of Governors must approve any new owners. League president Laurel Richie said the “process has not yet begun.” Ginny Gilder represents the Storm’s ownership group, Force 10 Hoops LLC, on the board.
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Force 10 Hoops’ statement Thursday:
“As the proud owners of the Seattle Storm, we believe there is no statute of limitations on the mandate that all WNBA owners and executives serve as exemplary role models and leaders. The sports world is finally beginning to address issues such as sexual harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault, all of which have been inadequately addressed for far too long. The WNBA belongs in a leadership role in addressing these sensitive issues.
“Force 10 Hoops and the Seattle Storm welcome the opportunity to affirm the values and vision championed by the WNBA. We intend to fully participate in the league’s standard vetting process for all ownership changes. We will do our best to protect and defend the core operating principles, stated or assumed, that form the foundation of the longest-tenured and most successful women’s professional league — the WNBA.”
Since his rehiring by New York, Thomas has said the facts of his sexual-harassment case were erroneously reported. Browne Sanders issued a statement Wednesday.
“In an attempt to re-write history, the (Madison Square) Garden has issued a Statement about Anucha Browne Sanders’ lawsuit against MSG, Dolan and Thomas that is, at best, misleading and, at worst, a fabrication,’’ Browne’s statement read. “In fact, a jury, after hearing all of the evidence, including Thomas’s self-serving denials, found that Thomas ‘intentionally discriminated against (Browne Sanders) by aiding and abetting a hostile environment based on sex.’
“Moreover, the Garden’s suggestion that the jury somehow exonerated Thomas by failing to award punitive damages against him is simply untrue. To the contrary, six of the seven jurors voted to assess punitive damages against Thomas personally. Had the defendants not settled after the verdict, Thomas would have had to face a retrial on that issue.’’
The WNBA was swift in its response to then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racial remarks, which got him banned for life from the NBA. And the WNBA expedited reaction to Indiana’s passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that some view as a form of discrimination.
But with the Thomas announcement, the WNBA is displaying more caution.
“Yes, a sexual harasser has just become president of a WNBA team,” wrote USA Today columnist I have to say that is a sentence I never thought I would write. If it took the NBA four days to get rid of Sterling, it should have taken the WNBA about an hour and a half to get rid of Thomas, mostly because there’s nothing new here. Unlike the breaking news of the Sterling audio tape in 2014, the truth about Thomas didn’t just bubble to the surface out of the blue this week. October 2007 is seven-and-a-half years ago. There is not a soul associated with the NBA and WNBA who doesn’t know all about what Thomas did to Browne.”