Penny Toler’s more than two-decade tenure with the Sparks as a player and executive ended Friday when the team fired her in the aftermath of a profanity-laced tirade directed at players following a playoff loss, which included a racial slur.
“On behalf of ownership and the entire Sparks organization, I’d like to thank Penny Toler for a successful and historic tenure with the organization,” Sparks managing partner Eric Holoman said in a statement. “Penny is a foundational figure in the growth of the WNBA and helped lead our franchise to perennial playoff success and multiple titles. We wish her nothing but the best moving forward.”
The Sparks said in their statement that a national search for a new general manager would begin immediately. Toler, a founding member of the WNBA as a player and the Sparks’ general manager for 20 years, also was the club’s executive vice president. Holoman will take over her duties as the club searches for a replacement.
The team is coming off a three-game sweep by Connecticut in the semifinals, following a 22-12 season and its eighth straight playoff appearance.
Toler entered the locker room after Game 2 of the series on Sept. 19 and challenged the team in a speech that included not only obscenities and racial epithets, but also threats that players would be replaced. Toler admitted using the offensive language but told ESPN the epithet “wasn’t directed at any of my players.”
Toler contends there has been some “embellishment” of her words, which were meant to “get the team going” following a 94-68 loss to the Sun. Connecticut swept the series with a 78-56 victory on Sept. 22.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who on Thursday said the league would launch an investigation into the incident, said Friday it was no longer necessary.
“With the announcement today by the Los Angeles Sparks that general manager Penny Toler is no longer employed by the team, there will be no further action from the league on the locker room incident reported in the media Thursday. The type of language reportedly used has no place in our league,” her statement said in part.
Toler hired former Lakers star Derek Fisher as coach 11 months ago, and he is under contract through next season, as are former WNBA MVP Candace Parker and the team’s other top players.
Toler and Fisher did not respond to requests for a comment.
During her tenure as general manager, the Sparks won WNBA titles in 2001, 2002 and 2016 while qualifying for the playoffs 18 times.
Toler, who played for the Sparks from 1997 to ‘99, scored the first basket and made the first free throw in WNBA history. She averaged 10 points, four assists and 2.8 rebounds in 88 games, 62 of which she started.
The 5-foot-8 point guard from Washington, D.C., played at Long Beach State after sitting out a season at San Diego State and completing a transfer. She became the 49ers’ career leader in assists and free-throw percentage at the time. Toler was a two-time conference player of the year and played on two Final Four teams.
She began her professional career overseas, playing five seasons in Italy, two in Greece and another in Israel. After she retired from the Sparks in 1999, she became the team’s general manager.
Correspondent Brady Klopfer contributed to this story.