Penny Toler’s long and storied career with the Los Angeles Sparks came to an abrupt end last Friday after reports that she had used the “n-word” in a post-game speech last month. Toler, who is black, was the team’s executive vice president and general manager, serving in the latter role for 20 seasons.
The team didn’t give a reason for why it was parting ways with Toler when it announced her immediate departure last Friday, reports USA Today. But the decision follows a league investigation into Toler’s obscenity-laden rant following a semifinal loss to the Connecticut Sun on Sept. 19.
Of course, cussing out your team after a disappointing performance isn’t an unusual move by any means, but Toler drew scrutiny for her use of racial epithets—namely, the n-word. As USA Today observes, Toler didn’t contradict claims that she had used the word during her locker room rant, only clarifying that she wasn’t referring to any of her players by the slur.
“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,” she continued. “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.”
Some LA Sparks players who spoke to ESPN said Toler’s speech had the opposite effect, making them feel uncomfortable. Toler called them “motherfuckers” and implied she would replace them next year if they got swept in the series against the Sun, comments that some took to show “total disrespect.”
Nor was it the first time Toler had spoken to her team like that. From ESPN:
Past Sparks players interviewed by ESPN said they’d heard Toler use language like that before, so they weren’t shocked to hear about the nature of her speech after Game 2. “Penny is competitive,” one former player said. “But it’s definitely not OK to talk like that.”
The Sparks wound up losing their next game and were eliminated from the playoffs.
Toler has had an illustrious career in the WNBA. A founding member of the league, she also scored the WNBA’s first basket. As Sparks GM, her teams have reached the playoffs 18 times and won three championships, the most recent in 2016. USA Today reports that Managing Partner and Governor Eric Holoman will take over her responsibilities until a replacement is hired.