the knicks dropped the ball
by J.C. Phillips
Because I sit on the board of directors of a state agency, California law requires me to take a sexual harassment seminar. What I learned during a very informative couple of hours is that the harassment line is not always clearly defined. Very often what is alleged as harassment has nothing to do with the intent of the accused, but how the accuser perceived the behavior. An off color joke meant to lighten the mood morphs into an insult laced with innuendo; an innocent hug becomes an unwanted advance. Because there is so much gray area, experts recommend that any questionable behavior be documented and if it persists be reported to one’s superiors.
Which leads me to Anucha Brown-Sanders.
What genius in the New York Knicks organization thought it a good idea to fire one of the highest-ranking black women in professional basketball immediately after she leveled charges of sexual harassment?
Brown-Sanders, former senior vice president of marketing and business operations for the Knicks, is suing the New York Knicks and their parent company Madison Square Garden claiming she was fired after she accused team president Isaiah Thomas of engaging in "demeaning and repulsive" behavior. Thomas strongly denies the allegations insisting Brown-Sanders was fired for poor job performance and that the lawsuit is an attempt to extort money.
In the interest of full disclosure, I know Anucha Brown-Sanders or at least I used to. Before moving to California, I counted her and her husband among my good friends. I knew her to be charming, outgoing and generous. I also knew her to be rather outspoken. It is not difficult for me to imagine her calling Isaiah Thomas on boorish conduct.
But as is so often the case, it is not clear that Thomas actually did anything untoward. Friends of Thomas are reported as saying remarks attributed to Thomas could have been misconstrued.
"He's a flirty type, a jokester,” they say. “He likes to pull tricks. He's just a nice person."
Fair enough. But Brown-Sanders did exactly what the experts recommend: She twice met with a human resources management consultant hired by Madison Square Garden and reported Thomas' “flirty” conduct. Later, she appealed directly to her superiors at MSG and was fired soon afterward.
It just looks bad.
Of course a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T could have smoothed everyone’s ruffled feathers. Another genius (or perhaps the same one) piled insult onto injury by offering Brown-Sanders a whopping $250K in severance. Given the obscene packages offered some recent executives that have been fired for “poor job performance” (Michael Ovitz anyone?), the question remains why didn’t MSG simply offer her a more generous package along with a glowing letter of recommendation and be done with it? The cost seems considerably cheaper than the price the Knicks will now pay in legal fees, poor public relations and the distraction from the business of winning basketball games.
It may very well be that Brown-Sanders is overly sensitive and simply misinterpreted Thomas’ humor. It is more difficult to argue, as Thomas and MSG seem to do, that she imagined the entire thing or that she is duplicitous and is simply seeking a windfall. The woman I knew loved basketball. The Knicks job was a dream realized. It is difficult to fathom her tossing a dream career into the garbage for a few dollars. Equally as difficult to conceive is Isaiah Thomas risking everything he has, his job, his reputation, his family and millions of company dollars by soliciting sex from a co-worker. That said, it is almost certain something happened. Did it rise to the level of harassment? That is for the courts to decide. What does seem clear is that with better ball handling by the Knicks and MSG, the entire mess could have been avoided.