After admitting using the N-word and expletives during a post-game rant, Virginia "Penny" Toler has been fired from her position as the Los Angeles Sparks General Manager and Executive Vice President.
According to TMZ, the Sparks detailed how the organization released Toler of her duties. She had been the G.M. for the last 20 years.
In an official statement, the Sparks made the announcement of Toler’s departure from the team.
“Toler was relieved of her duties and will no longer be with the organization, effective immediately," the Sparks detailed. "A national search will begin immediately to identify the next general manager of the Sparks. Managing Partner and Governor Eric Holoman will assume the duties in the interim."
Toler gave her team a heated post-game speech in the locker room after the Connecticut Sun defeated the Sparks on September 19. The Sparks lost 94 to 68.
The 53-year-old, who is Black, admitted to using the N-word and other language deemed offensive by the players to ESPN, but says the slur wasn’t directed towards them.
“By no means did I call my players the N-word. I'm not saying that I couldn't have used it in a context. But it wasn't directed at any of my players,” she said.
"It's unfortunate I used that word. 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,” she said.
“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,” Toler continued.
On Thursday, an investigation was launched against Toler’s tirade by WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert.
The Los Angeles Sentinel’s Lauren A. Jones shared the official statement of Toler’s firing the following day.
Here is the full statement from the LA Sparks on Toler’s dismissal following reports that she used the “N word” in addressing Sparks players after a loss during the WNBA Playoffs pic.twitter.com/ut967bLIB0— Lauren A. Jones (@LoJoMedia) October 4, 2019
Before retiring from her professional WNBA basketball career, Toler played for the Sparks from 1997-1999. In her two decade tenure as as general manager, the Sparks made 18 playoff appearances, winning three titles in 2001, 2002 and 2016.
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Derek Fisher will remain the team's head coach despite Toler’s firing. The L.A. Sparks were swept by the Connecticut Sun in the playoff semifinals.
The Los Angeles Sparks were swept out of the WNBA playoffs by the Connecticut Sun under strange circumstances.
An ESPN report has emerged detailing a profanity laced tirade given by GM Penny Tolerafter the team’s game two loss, and fractured relationships between head coach Derek Fisher and some of his players as issues that contributed to the Sparks’ poor performance.
Toler is now under investigation by the WNBA, according to the Associated Press.
“We understand the heat of the moment and that the Sparks lost in the semifinals, but we don’t condone that kind of language and will be reviewing it over the next few days,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
Following the loss Toler entered the locker room and launched into a tirade with expletives and racial epithets. League sources and players say “n-gger” and “motherf-cker” were used.
“You can’t say that in 2019,” a player told ESPN.
Several players told ESPN the tirade made them uncomfortable and showed "total disrespect."
Toler has been general manager of the Sparks since 1999 and was the first player to score a basket in the WNBA.
Toler says she is a competitor, but in no way aimed any racial slurs at her players.
"I've been in sports my whole life. It's not about losing, it's how we're losing, when I know we have a lot more to give. So I come to the locker room and I'm trying to give us obviously a spirited speech to get everybody going, 'Hey, get up and let's get going,'” she told ESPN.
"If I offended someone, I didn't mean to offend anyone. 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. Clearly, some people were offended. That wasn't the message I was going for, obviously. And that clearly is not the reason we lost Game 3. And if that was the reason, what was the reason we lost the first two? I wasn't in the locker room then."
Toler’s behavior brings up the divide in sports between those that favor a hard-nosed, confrontational style of coaching and managing to a less abrasive style.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Outmoded forms of communication between athletes and coaches/management are steeped in toxicity and a culture of demeaning. But coaches and management need to be honest in their critique of athletes as well. It’s a balance.
Toler and/or the Sparks could face punishment from the league if her behavior was deemed inappropriate and antithetical to the core values of the WNBA.
Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images