A bombshell report in Sports Illustrated describes a culture of harassment, abuse, and workplace misconduct at the Dallas Mavericks.
Reported by Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther, the story interviews numerous former and current Mavs employees who relayed their experiences at the organization.
A former staffer who had common interactions with players compared the environment in the locker room to the office,
“I dealt with players all the time. I had hundreds of interactions with players and never once had an issue…they always knew how to treat people. Then I’d go to the office and it was this zoo, this complete shitshow. My anxiety would go down dealing with players; it would go up when I got to my desk.”
Ironically, sources described the Mavs’ workplace as having a “locker room culture,” despite the fact that the actual locker room was a much more inclusive and normal working environment than the office.
Another woman who used to work for the Mavs told SI about the conditions of the organization:
“You don’t feel safe going to work and it’s not long before you look for another job. And then you wonder why there aren’t more women working in sports. Really?”
One main culprit of the alleged misconduct is former Mavs CEO and President Terdema Ussery, a Princeton graduate with a masters from Harvard and a law degree from Cal-Berkeley, who was the subject of numerous complaints.
“Ussery was polished, well-connected and, colleagues say, a marketing whiz who could sell with evangelical conviction. But those same colleagues say that Ussery routinely transgressed workplace boundaries. In the summer of 1998, the Mavericks conducted an internal investigation of Ussery after several female employees made complaints of inappropriate workplace behavior.”
In a statement, Ussery denied any wrongdoing and claimed that he actually raised concerns of other employees who “had engaged in highly inappropriate” conduct.
“During my nearly 20 year tenure with the Mavericks, I am not aware of any sexual harassment complaints about me or any findings by the organization that I engaged in inappropriate conduct. In fact, on multiple occasions I and other senior executives at the organization raised concerns—both in person and in emails—about other Mavericks employees who had engaged in highly inappropriate—and in some cases, threatening—sexual conduct. The organization refused to address these concerns, and I believe these misleading claims about me are part of an attempt to shift blame for the failure to remove employees who created an uncomfortable and hostile work environment within the Mavericks organization.”
SI also documents the case of a Mavericks beat writer who was allowed to stay on the job despite domestic violence charges, and then later abused a fellow employee who he had begun a relationship with, as well as an HR head that was outspoken about his conservative religious beliefs on gay marriage and abortion.
Needless to say, the Mavericks have a problem. Naturally this begs the question of Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s knowledge of the situation. Cuban’s hands-on approach to ownership, often attending games and sitting courtside, and place on the popular TV show Shark Tank, has made him a media and fan darling since he purchased the Mavericks in 2000.
While most sources SI interviewed were adamant that Cuban was not himself inappropriate or abusive in the workplace, many find it hard to believe that he didn’t have knowledge of the situation.
“To a person, they make clear that, to their knowledge, Cuban was never a perpetrator, never involved in sexual harassment himself. Yet, most also find it hard to imagine that Cuban is unaware of the corrosive culture in some corners of his organization. ‘Trust me, Mark knows everything that goes on,’ says one longtime former Mavericks employee. ‘Of course Mark knew [about the instances of harassment and assault]. Everyone knew.'”
When SI reached out for comment, Cuban was quick to claim that this was all revelatory for him,
“This is all new to me. The only awareness I have is because I heard you guys were looking into some things…. Based off of what I’ve read here, we just fired our HR person. I don’t have any tolerance for what I’ve read.”
And asked how he could be unaware of the situation despite his reputation of involving himself in all the minutiae of the organization, Cuban explained:
“It’s wrong. It’s abhorrent. It’s not a situation we condone. I can’t tell you how many times, particularly since all this [#MeToo] stuff has been coming out recently I asked our HR director, ‘Do we have a problem? Do we have any issues I have to be aware of?’ And the answer was no… I deferred to the CEO, who at the time was Terdema, and to HR… I was involved in basketball operations, but other than getting the financials and reports, I was not involved in the day to day [of the business side] at all. That’s why I just deferred. I let people do their jobs. And if there were anything like this at all I was supposed to be made aware, obviously I was not.”
Cuban conceded that there was a “problem” with his franchise,
“I want to deal with this issue. I mean, this is, obviously there’s a problem in the Mavericks organization and we’ve got to fix it. That’s it. And we’re going to take every step. It’s not something we tolerate. I don’t want it. It’s not something that’s acceptable. I’m embarrassed, to be honest with you, that it happened under my ownership, and it needs to be fixed. Period. End of story.”
Surely this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing of this story. It’ll be interesting to watch the general reaction around the NBA over the next couple days.