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Thursday, September 27, 2007
The Language of the Isiah Thomas Trial

David Segal of the Washington Post has an excellent piece today on the Isiah Thomas sexual harassment trial ("Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas Takes Center Stage," Sept. 27, 2007; Page C01).

I was interviewed by Segal for the story, which examines the nature and styles of language found in the trial.

Here is an excerpt from Segal's piece:
With Zen-like serenity and a choirboy's smile, former basketball star and current New York Knicks coach and President Isiah Thomas took the stand Wednesday in a sexual harassment suit filed by a former employee, giving him the chance to share a few thoughts on some choice words. For instance: "I don't think it's appropriate for any man -- black, white, green or purple -- to call a woman a bitch."

As for the blunt four-letter verb often used for sexual congress, by all means, that's in his vocabulary, he testified. But the 46-year-old Thomas said he never swears at employees, and he certainly never swore at Anucha Browne Sanders, the Knicks' onetime senior vice president for marketing, who filed a $9.6 million suit against Thomas and was fired last year by the team's owner. She has alleged that, in addition to hurling these vulgarities her way, Thomas made unwanted advances, including a profession of love and an invitation to "go off-site." She seeks reinstatement to her job, which paid as much as $260,000 annually.

This is the third week of the civil trial, which has been so bleeping full of bleep words, not to mention tawdry behavior -- including that tired old chestnut of corporate misdeeds, sex with an intern -- that the transcript ought to come with a parental warning sticker. For the NBA, which is still coping with the scandal of a referee who bet on games, the timing is lousy. Commissioner David Stern has diplomatically refused to comment, but with the case producing tabloid headlines such as "Oh, Those Slithery Snakes in the Garden," it's surely adding to his agita.

Segal asked me what I thought David Stern's reaction would be to Thomas being found civilly liable:
Stern will "be outraged if we end up with a finding of sexual harassment," says Michael McCann, a sports law professor at Mississippi College School of Law. "He's been trying in recent years to regulate the maturity level of the league -- with a dress code, with an age eligibility requirement for the draft -- and maybe that maturity level will have to extend beyond the locker room."
For the rest of the story, click here.


It seems highly unprofessional for the head coach of a professional basketball team to be making sexual innuendos to a high ranking member of his own staff. It would seem like Thomas, a renowned professional basketball player could go "off the court" to find a lady friend, effectively keeping himself out of the spotlight and concentration attention on where it should be, his team. Nevertheless, it seems like he said she said. What about the plaintiffs background and credibility; are there any skeletons in her closet that could shed a little more light on this case.

Blogger Jordan Bird -- 9/27/2007 10:59 AM  

I agree that the Post piece was an excellent overview for those who have not suffered from the dysfunctional set-up known as Madison Square Garden. The case is a loser for both sides. I do not think that the plaintiff's case showed some serious weaknesses regarding her job performance and attempts (if true) to get others to stick their necks out to vouch for her. But the organization comes off as a laughing stock, run by the son of a cable TV pioneer who consistently ranks as one of the worst sports execs around and a GM whose record is poor and whose judgment based on comments during his deposition are questionable.

I could not come up with a better case study on mismanagement, which is any normal business, would have gone: (1) belly up; or (2) would have had a front-office shake-up long ago; (3) faced a consumer revolt. Amazingly none of these options will happen.

How about a project for law students and MBAs on institutional change?

Blogger Mark Conrad -- 9/28/2007 12:10 AM  

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