No Truth, No Liberty: I Am Anucha Browne

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by Nevin Caple | Executive Director, BTS | @NevinCaple

 

Anuncha-Browne-articleLast week, I met up with my dear friend and mentor, Kate Kendell, in New York City. We talked extensively about the WNBA’s Isaiah Thomas problem and the implications on women and girls in sport. As a result, my organization, Br{ache the Silence, founded to end homophobia and sexism in women and girls sports, teamed up with National Center for Lesbian Rights and The Lesbian Super Pac, LPAC, to protest Madison Square Garden Company’s appointment of Isaiah Thomas as President of the New York Liberty.

In April, Thomas was rehired by MSG Chairman, James Dolan to lead the women’s team, despite Thomas’ tainted past. In 2007, both men were named in a lawsuit claiming they created a hostile work environment for former MSG Executive, Anucha Browne. Thomas was accused of sexual harassment and bullying after repeatedly referring to Browne as “bitch” and “ho”. He later professed his love for Browne and admitted under oath, “It’s not so bad for a black man to call a black women a bitch.” Browne was awarded $11.6 million in damages by a jury, while Thomas maintains his innocence. After Thomas was rehired to lead the Liberty, MSG issued the following statement, “We did not believe the allegations then, and we don’t believe them now.” As a result, we call for the following:

Isaiah Thomas to acknowledge his role in creating a hostile work environment for Anucha Browne. Additionally, we are requesting a public apology from Isaiah Thomas to Anucha Browne and all women in sport, for his comment made under oath, “It’s not so bad for a black man to call a black woman a bitch.”

I believe in rehabilitation, forgiveness, and personal growth, but this requires one to admit they made a mistake and express sincere efforts to create positive change. Throughout this entire ordeal, however, Thomas has not displayed any signs of remorse. Thomas’ dismissal of the truth and failure to acknowledge his role in creating a hostile work environment for Browne, and quite possibly others, is troubling. Moreover, women of color experience higher incidences of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

In a league where the majority of players are women of color, we cannot remain silent when a man who has made racially charged, sexist statements is appointed to a position of power. Until Thomas can own his discriminatory behavior, he is not qualified to lead the community he victimized, and poses a threat to all women in the WNBA. Money can buy silence and power, but not leadership. And, it certainly can’t erase the past.

This incident highlights a larger crisis in women’s sports that stems from devaluing women and their contributions. At a time when more women and girls are participating in higher revenue generating sports, coaching, administrative and management positions are becoming more desirable to men. Women are being pushed out of these leadership positions and not being hired, while successful women are being fired, and replaced by under-qualified male counterparts. Conversely, this trend is not happening in men’s sports, as less than 1% of men’s teams are coached by women.

Players and coaches deserve to find their likeness in leadership, in safe and respectful environments. And, the women in the WNBA deserve responsive leadership – no more or less than the outrage that ensued from NBA players, coaches, owners and fans when Donald Sterling’s racist text message was leaked, forcing his exile and lifetime ban.

In the WNBA, the risk outweighs that of its NBA counterpart, as breaking the silence could lead to backlash the players simply can’t afford without the support of WNBA leadership. I have tremendous respect for Laurel Richie and the inclusive culture she has created in the league – and I hope the WNBA Board of Governors will uphold that cultural standard by denying Thomas ownership of the New York Liberty.

Today, Friday, June 5th we will fill Madison Square Garden with the legacy of Anucha Browne, a woman who Isaiah Thomas and James Dolan tried desperately to make disappear. We will proudly wear ‘I Am Anucha Browne’ t-shirts and stand in solidarity with all women who have ever felt silence is worth more than your voice. There will be a pre-game rally at the MSG entrance at 6:45pm and we will distribute t-shirts to all who attend. If you can’t join us at MSG for the game or pre-game rally, please ‘like’ the ‘I Am Anucha Browne’ Facebook page and change your social media profile picture to the ‘I Am Anucha Browne’ profile image to show your support for a woman’s right to exist in the workplace without threat of sexual harassment or discrimination.

#IAmAnuchaBrowne

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