Former Kings announcer Grant Napear is suing the parent company of KHTK-AM 1140, the radio home of the Kings, for an amount that exceeds $75,000 in damages for wrongful termination, discrimination and retaliation, according to a complaint filed by Napear’s attorney in federal court in Sacramento.
Napear’s representatives allege that the venerable sports talk radio host and decades-long television voice of the Kings suffered emotional distress, a loss of wages, humiliation and public shame when Bonneville International Corp., a Utah-based company, dumped Napear from the airwaves in June 2020.
“Over the course of a 26-year broadcasting career (on KHTK) Grant Napear became a prominent member of the media industry,” says the complaint filed by the Ruggles Law Firm of Fair Oaks in a document filed in the Eastern District of California.
“In 2017, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awarded Napear his second Emmy Award for his broadcasting of Sacramento Kings games. ... Napear alleges he was terminated because he is a Caucasian man who published a phrase on social media that (Bonneville International) contends violated the company’s ad hoc (and unpublished) policy supporting Black Lives Matter.”
It was on the evening of May 31, 2020, that former Kings player DeMarcus Cousins, who occasionally clashed with Napear while he played for the Kings between 2010 and 2017, sent a tweet to current Kings coach Doug Christie and asked if Christie could get Napear to give his “take” on Black Lives Matter — the social movement calling attention to the brutality police sometimes inflict on Black people.
That same night, demonstrations were raging in Sacramento and elsewhere following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Napear responded to Cousins with a tweet that read: “Hey!! How are you? Thought you forgot about me. Haven’t heard from you in years. ALL LIVES MATTER ... EVERY SINGLE ONE.”
According to Napear’s complaint, he was informed the next day that he was suspended from his radio show.
Then, according to the suit, Napear was told that he was barred from the company premises “ as if he was a criminal.”
Then, according to the complaint, Napear was terminated “for cause” as defined by a clause in Napear’s employment contract.
The complaint cites the clause as stating the following: “Any act of material dishonesty, misconduct, or other conduct that might discredit the goodwill, good name or reputation of the Company.”
Napear’s complaint states that no one from Bonneville ever told Napear that he was “terminated for material dishonesty, misconduct or any conduct that might discredit the goodwill, good name or reputation of the company.” The complaint further states that Napear was never told his tweet discredited the goodwill or reputation of his former employer.
Bonneville, based in Salt Lake City, declined to comment on the litigation. The company, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, did release a statement June 2, 2020, that it had “parted ways” with Napear because his comments about Black Lives Matter “ did not reflect the views of values of Bonneville.”
“The timing of (Napear’s) tweet was particularly insensitive,” Bonneville said in its news release.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death and the events of the last several days, it is crucial that we communicate the tremendous respect that we have for the Black community and any other groups or individuals who have cause to feel marginalized.”
Napear maintains that his tweet was not meant to disparage the Black community in any way.
“I was fired over six words. ... All Lives Matter! EVERY SINGLE ONE!!! as I tweeted,” Napear said in an email to The Bee.
“.Notice what I put in all caps. Ever since I can remember my parents preached equality in our home. My parents along with the core principles of our church is how I strive to live my life every day!”
Napear was the Kings TV play-by-play announcer from 1988 until June 2020, a total of 32 seasons. In 1995, KHTK approached Napear to host an afternoon sports talk radio show, which Napear led to great rating success for a quarter-century.
In 2011, when it appeared the Kings were leaving Sacramento for another city, it was Napear who spoke for all Kings fans on live television when he choked back tears and movingly described the bond between “this team and this city.” National outlets like ESPN tapped Napear frequently during those years so he could put into context why Sacramento cared so much about the Kings.
When the Kings future in Sacramento was secured, and the organization celebrated the milestone at their former Natomas home, once known as Arco Arena, Napear was cheered wildly by Kings fans.
Since his dismissal, Napear has moved to Florida from Sacramento, and he has started his own podcast.
Some media pundits, like HBO host Bill Maher, have criticized his firing as misguided.
“What he said came from a place of ignorance and not racism,” Maher said of Napear on his show in the summer of 2020.
“That difference is important. Someone could have just explained to him why there is a deservedly special reason why we single out Black lives for protection. But now, instead of a possible ally, we create a bitter unemployed person.”
Napear told The Bee in 2020 that he was not aware that the phrase “all lives matter” was sometimes appropriated by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement as a way of discrediting the idea that Black people were in greater danger of discrimination and violence at the hands of police. Napear said he meant to use the phrase literally, that all lives mattered equally in the world. His lawsuit cites his lifetime membership in the Unitarian Universalist Church, which, the suit says, follows several principles supporting the belief that every person has “inherent worth and dignity.”
But after Napear’s tweet on May 31, 2020, and the ensuing controversy it triggered, some former Kings players, who are also Black, criticized Napear publicly.
“We know and have known who Grant is. The team knows as well. I’ve told them many times. They’ve seen it. They know who he is,” former Kings All-Star Chris Webber said.
“Would expect nothing less from a closet racist,” said Matt Barnes, who is from Sacramento, played for the Kings in 2004, and has joined the Kings broadcast team this season.
Napear tried to clarify his comments in subsequent tweets: “If it came across as dumb I apologize. That was not my intent. That’s how I was raised. It has been ingrained in me since I can remember. I’ve been doing more listening than talking the past few days. I believe the past few days will change this country for the better!”
On June 1, 2020, Napear had hoped to apologize to his listeners during his show but he was not allowed to go on the air. His career as a Kings broadcaster was over.
Napear seeks a money judgment for “mental pain, anguish, and emotional distress.” He seeks compensatory damages for lost wages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Napear’s lawyer, Matthew J. Ruggles, seeks a jury trial in federal court.