WNBA icon Penny Toler was fired from her position as executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Sparks after using the N-word during a locker room speech.
Toler was giving her players a speech following a bad WNBA semifinals loss to the Connecticut Sun.
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LA_Sparks) October 4, 2019
In a statement, the Los Angeles Sparks made no mention of Toler's speech but thanked her for decades of success with the franchise.
“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,” Los Angeles Sparks Managing Partner and Governor Eric Holoman said in the statement.
“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,” he added in the statement.
Toler later admitted that she used the N-word during the speech but said it wasn't directed at any of her players.
In an interview with ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Toler said, "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," Toler 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."
After losing Game 2 in the semifinals on September 19, Toler reportedly came into the locker room and called the women “motherf***ers” before telling them she would replace the team if they got swept in Game 3.
The team lost Game 3 of the series, with controversial coach Derek Fisher confusingly benching star player Candace Parker in the elimination game.
Toler holds the distinction of scoring the league's first point in 1997. She played for the Sparks until 1999 and is the league's longest-serving general manager. She has been at the helm of the Sparks for 20 years, making the playoffs 18 times and winning championships in 2001, 2002 and 2016.
Former Sparks players said Toler had often used the N-word and other harsh language throughout her tenure as general manager. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert denounced the situation but said the team will not be disciplined because Toler had been fired.
"The type of language reportedly used has no place in our league," Engelbert's statement said.
"The WNBA takes pride in being one of the most diverse leagues in professional sports that fosters an inclusive and respectful environment. We thank Penny for her contributions to the WNBA through her service to the Sparks organization and as a player over two decades," Engelbert said.