Expletive-Laced Locker Room ‘Pep Talk’ Has LA Sparks GM Penny Toler in WNBA’s Sights

Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike (left) and Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas, fight for a rebound during a contentious Game 2 of a WNBA playoff game, Sept. 19, 2019 in which the Sparks suffered a major loss. Now, the WNBA is looking into Sparks general manager Penny Toler’s locker room behavior after that game.
Photo: Jessica Hill (Associated Press)

The WNBA is looking into what was reportedly an expletive- and epithet-laden locker room “pep talk” given by Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler to her losing team during Game 2 of the WNBA playoffs.

“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,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

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At issue is a locker room speech Toler gave to her players after a major loss to the Connecticut Sun in semifinal play Sept. 19, a speech filled with curses and racial epithets, including “nigger,” Sparks players and other league sources told ESPN.

“You can’t say that in 2019,” one player told ESPN, which reports:

Several Sparks players told ESPN the speech made them feel uncomfortable and showed “total disrespect” as Toler called them [“motherfuckers”] and suggested she’d replace them next year if they got swept by the Sun.

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In play a few days later, on Sept. 22, the Sparks did indeed get swept by the Sun.

Toler, herself a WNBA veteran who, according to ESPN, scored the first basket in league history as a member of the Sparks in 1997, is known to be “competitive,” a former player told ESPN. “But it’s definitely not OK to talk like that.”

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Toler, who is African American, didn’t deny using the word “nigger” in her speech to the team, but told ESPN that she never directed it to any of her players:

“By no means did I call my players the N-word,” Toler told ESPN. “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. 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.”

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