Some 20 protesters speak out against Liberty's hiring of Isiah Thomas

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Saturday, June 6, 2015

NEW YORK -- A group of approximately 20 protesters gathered outside of Madison Square Garden on Friday night to speak out against the New York Liberty's decision to hire Isiah Thomas as president.

The Liberty opened their WNBA season against Atlanta.

"He is not qualified to lead a community he has victimized. And he poses a threat to all women in the WNBA," said Nevin Caple, the executive director of Brache The Silence, a group dedicated to ending sexism and homophobia in women's sports. "Money can buy silence and power, but money can't buy leadership and it certainly can't erase the past."

Caple and other protesters wore black shirts that read "I am Anucha Browne" across the front. The wording was a reference to Anucha Browne Sanders, the ex-Madison Square Garden executive who won a jury award of $11.6 million in a sexual harassment case against MSG and then-New York Knicks president Thomas.

Although Thomas maintained his innocence, a jury found that MSG, owner of the team, improperly dismissed Browne Sanders for complaining about the unwanted advances. The jury also ruled that Browne Sanders was entitled to $11.6 million in damages from MSG and its chairman, James Dolan. Madison Square Garden and Browne Sanders later settled for $11.5 million.

A portion of the money ($6 million) was awarded for the jury's ruling that Thomas aided and abetted a hostile work environment. The rest of the money was awarded because Browne Sanders was found to have been fired for complaining about the environment.

The protesters on Friday called on Thomas to issue a public apology to Brown Sanders and acknowledge his role in aiding and abetting a hostile work environment. Thomas and Madison Square Garden have disputed the jury's findings several times over the past several weeks.

On Friday, the Liberty issued a statement responding to criticism from the Women's Sports Foundation, which has organized a petition to the WNBA to vote against Thomas' bid for partial ownership of the Liberty.

Thomas' partial ownership petition is being vetted by a committee of owners from the WNBA Board of Governors.

"The Women's Sports Foundation has continued to rely on erroneous and exaggerated media reports regarding Isiah Thomas and MSG. They are misinformed. In fact, the case was never concluded," the Liberty's statement read. "Anucha Browne Sanders voluntarily dismissed her complaint. Ms. Sanders accepted that MSG and Mr. Thomas did not admit guilt or concede any wrongdoing. MSG agreed to forego any additional legal action and agreed to a payment covering past and future salary and legal expenses. Isiah Thomas did not pay anything."

Thomas did not wish to discuss his role as a defendant in the case Friday.

"I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm only here to talk about the New York Liberty," Thomas said prior to the team's 82-73 win over the Dream.

Outside the Garden about 30 minutes before tipoff, Caple was joined by a group of 20 men and women protesting Thomas' new role.

"We are basically here today calling for Isiah Thomas to not only acknowledge his role in creating a hostile work environment for Anucha Browne but also issue a public apology to Anucha Browne and also all women in sports for the racist and sexist comments that he has made," Caple said.

Joining Caple were Roz Lee and Beverly Tillery, two longtime Liberty season-ticket holders. Lee and Tillery said they renewed their season-ticket package prior to Thomas' hiring. They added that if they'd known about Thomas' role with the team, they would not have renewed.

"Clearly, it shows a lot of disrespect for women, for the players, for the fans, for anyone who supports women's basketball," Tillery said of Liberty owner and MSG chairman James Dolan's decision to hire Thomas. "It shows that he doesn't care about the women. It's very disappointing I feel like they should be thoroughly ashamed that they even considered doing this and that they thought they could do this without people being upset."