The WNBA is investigating what took place in the Sparks’ locker room Sept. 19 after the team lost Game 2 of its WNBA semifinal series with the Connecticut Sun 94-68. The Sparks were eliminated by the second-seeded Sun three days later.
According to a report from ESPN, Sparks general manager Penny Toler entered the locker room after Game 2 and challenged the team in a speech that included obscenities, racial epithets and threats that players would be replaced.
“We’ll be looking into it as a league,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” “We understand heat of the moment and that the Sparks lost in the semifinals, but we don’t condone that kind of language, and we’ll be reviewing it over the next couple of days.”
The Sparks declined to comment to the Los Angeles Times. ESPN reported that Toler, a former Sparks player, acknowledged using racial epithets but said they were not directed at any of the team’s players.
In a statement, Toler said, “No one is above criticism or feedback, and I am committed to ensuring my words consistently reflect the Sparks’ values of a productive and positive working environment moving forward. I will take this as a learning opportunity and grow from this and make sure that not only myself, but my staff, team and the entire organization is cognizant of the language we use in the locker room.”
In Game 3, as the Sun finished off the sweep of the Sparks with a 78-56 rout at the Pyramid in Long Beach, all five Sparks starters were benched by the end of the third quarter.
Candace Parker, a two-time league MVP, played only 11 minutes in that game. Some Sparks players reportedly attributed her benching to pressure coach Derek Fisher was under after Toler’s speech, as well as a confrontation that took place between Fisher, Parker and All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike during a practice before the game.
Toler has been the Sparks’ GM for 20 years. She hired Fisher 11 months ago without interviewing any other candidates. Parker and the team’s other top players are under contract for next season.