The Los Angeles Sparks fired their general manager and executive vice president Penny Toler last week, after she was accused of using the N-word. It was said she used the word during a locker room speech that was meant to motivate her players.
It came on Sept. 19 after Game 2 when the Sparks lost to the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA semifinals 94-68. The L.A. team was swept from the semifinals in Game 3 a few days later, and Toler, who’s black, was fired afterward.
Toler spoke to ESPN about the whole thing, and while she didn’t deny using the N-word, she said it wasn’t used towards anyone specifically.
“By no means did I call my players the N-word,” she explained shortly before the termination. “I’m not saying that I couldn’t have used it in a context. But it wasn’t directed at any of my players.”
“It’s unfortunate I used that word,” Toler added. “I shouldn’t. Nobody should … But you know, like I said, I’m not here to defend word by word by word what I said. I know some of the words that I’m being accused of are embellished. Did I give a speech that I hoped would get our team going? Yes.
“I think that this whole conversation has been taken out of context, because when we lose emotions are running high, and unfortunately and obviously some people feel some type of way,” said Toler.
She joined the Sparks as a player in 1997 in the WNBA’s first year and scored the league’s very first basket. Toler retired in 1999 and became the Sparks’ general manager, where she helped the team win three championships in 2001, 2002 and 2016.
After the Game 2 speech, many players said Toler showed “Total disrespect” to the players by using the N-word, and it made them feel uneasy.
The players also accused her of calling them motherf—–s during the speech and said she told them they’d all be replaced next season if they didn’t pick up their play. Plus, Sparks’ members said they’ve heard Toler use similar language in the past.
“If I offended someone, I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” Toler explained. “But my point is, I was saying what I was thinking, and I have the right to do that as the GM.”
“I’ve been the GM for 20 years and this is the first time something like this has occurred,” she added. “Clearly, some people were offended. That wasn’t the message I was going for, obviously.”
Toler has deactivated her Instagram account, but some are talking about her termination on the Sparks’ Instagram page.
“At least the GM owned up for using the n word, explaining she did not direct it at any one person, but used it in context,” someone wrote. “If it’s done in-house in the locker room it should stay between the players and team.”
“Looks like it’s time to find a new GM,” another person weighed in. “It’s disgusting what Penny Toler said to her team. There’s no place anywhere for anyone to use the n-word. Ever!”