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In Defense of Isiah…Well, Sort Of

Before I really get started, I think it’s important to establish a few things.  Maybe they’ll give me a bit of credibility…maybe they won’t. First, I’m an attorney.  Second, I’m an attorney who devotes at least a third of her practice to employment discrimination/harassment work.  Third, in case you didn’t catch the “her” that I used in number 2, I’m a woman, a black one.  So please, please trust me when I say that I know discrimination and harassment when I see them, and they have no place in the workplace or society as a whole.  Discrimination and harassment are horrible and beyond being horrible; they’re illegal.  Hear me when I say I’m no advocate for letting people get away with bias in the workplace.  I promise.  But just as emphatically and in the same breath as I can say discrimination and harassment are despicable and horrible, I can say that not everyone accused of being or even found to be a discriminator or harasser are at their very core, always and forever, scumbags.  There are in fact instances where a person is “convicted” of discrimination or harassment and that person 1) still be capable of doing his/her job in an overall fair, honest manner and 2) not be an actual bigot, chauvinist, or whatever one might call such a person.  Equal Employment Opportunity cases can get extremely messy.  Things aren’t always cut and dry, so a finding of discrimination or harassment doesn’t always mean that the accused should be perpetually labeled as a bad person.  

This brings me to the good brotha, Isiah Thomas.  Poor Isiah…people are giving him a hard way to go these days.  In case you haven’t heard, the New York Liberty recently hired Thomas to be the organization’s President and is trying to make him part owner as well.  The big problem, for what appears to be most of America, is that, back in 2007, a court determined that the Madison Square Garden Co. (owner of the Knicks and Liberty) basically fired Anucha Brown Sanders, a Knicks executive, for trying to blow the lid on Thomas.   Sanders’ story was that when she told MSG that Thomas, the General Manager of the Knicks at the time, was sexually harassing her and tried to settle the matter in-house, she got canned.  See, while the street code might be “snitches get stitches,” that really doesn’t fly in corporate America.  Your company can’t retaliate when you attempt to enforce your rights by reporting discrimination and abuse.  That’s a big no-no.  The facts were a bit scandalous, at times unbelievable and downright messy, but when it came down to it, a jury awarded Sanders a whopping $11.6 million.  I mean they made sure she was able to make it rain something terrible after that trial. But here’s the thing, if you look at the facts and Thomas’ track record, they don’t clearly show that Thomas is a sexist, egotistical man who’s incapable of working with or managing women. Is he the poster child for human resources, certainly not?  But he also doesn’t have throngs of women lined up complaining about his inappropriate behavior.  I could be wrong, but I’d be willing to bet my last Chick-fil-A waffle fry that since 2007 Thomas has worked with women without incident.  You just can’t convince me that a short period of questionable conduct should forever ban the man from working in basketball or with women. Nope, can’t do it.

Everyone deserves a second chance.  So I don’t think the issue with hiring Thomas should rest with the harassment suit. No, the issue with his new position/ownership should arise in an area where he’s been tested time and time again, his skill level.  Thomas the player was phenomenal.  Without question he was one of the most impactful players of the game; no doubt a living legend.  Thomas the manager, coach or executive doesn’t have the same illustrious career. Since retirement Thomas has failed as a coach, general manager, and owner.  He’s left trails of losing seasons, bad draft picks and trades, poor management and stubborn decision making in the NBA, CBA and the NCAA.  I mean he’s arguably the reason the CBA went under and hasn’t produced a winning season as a coach yet.  It’s mind-boggling that despite his track record, any team would consider him as a viable candidate for basketball operations.  He’s shown the world time and time again that his talent was best displayed on the court not from behind the desk or the sidelines.  Moral of the story: If you’re looking for a new coach, team executive, owner…hell, water boy, do yourself a favor and don’t give Isiah Thomas a call.  But don’t avoid giving him a call because he you think he’s a chauvinist pig, avoid making that call because he’ll run your team into the ground.  


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