Sparks fire GM Penny Toler after reports of her using racial slur in postgame speech

Penny Toler's tenure as Sparks GM has ended after two decades of work. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Penny Toler's tenure as Sparks GM has ended after two decades of work. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler has been fired only a day after a report emerged that she used the n-word during an ill-advised attempt to pump up her team after a loss in the WNBA playoffs, the team announced Friday.

The Sparks’ press release announcing Toler’s firing does not mention the report.

“On behalf of ownership and the entire Sparks organization, I’d like to thank Penny Toler for a successful and historic tenure with the organization,” Sparks governor Eric Holoman said in the release. “Penny is a foundational figure in the growth of the WNBA and helped lead our franchise to perennial playoff success and multiple titles. We wish her nothing but the best moving forward.”

Toler’s firing ends a 20-year tenure in Los Angeles in which the Sparks won three WNBA titles and made the playoffs in all but two seasons. She was both the longest-tenured and winningest general manager in league history. Prior to her tenure as general manager, Toler played three seasons for the Sparks and holds the interesting distinction of scoring the first basket in WNBA history.

Toler used N-word in ‘spirited’ postgame speech

Following the Sparks’ humiliating 94-68 setback in Game 2 of a series they would ultimately lose to the Connecticut Sun, Toler reportedly spoke to players in the locker room and used “racial epithets” in a speech meant to motivate them while down 2-0 to the Sun.

She later confirmed to ESPN she used the N-word, but in a context that wasn’t directed at her players.

Toler’s defense, from ESPN:

"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.

"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."

Toler also reportedly noted it was the first such incident in her two-decade career as general manager and said it “clearly is not the reason we lost Game 3.” She added that she didn’t mean to offend and was “saying what I was thinking. And I have the right to do that as the GM.”

Multiple players also reportedly told ESPN that Toler called them “motherf---ers” and threatened to replace them if the Sparks were swept, which later happened. Instead, it is Toler who will be replaced.

What about Derek Fisher?

Toler’s racial slurs only came after what was a rocky postseason for the Sparks. Head coach Derek Fisher, a questionable hire by Toler last offseason, oversaw a team that was severely outmatched by the Sun.

Fisher was widely criticized for benching star Candace Parker in the Sparks’ must-win Game 3. ESPN commentator Rebecca Lobo also questioned him for appearing to only tell his players that they need to play harder during a 78-56 Game 3 loss, rather than any tactical changes.

Given that Fisher was Toler’s hire, you’d think he could be headed out the door as well. However, ESPN reports Fisher is expected to keep his job.

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