The Dallas Mavericks were subject to allegations of rampant sexual harassment and toxic masculinity in the workplace, per a searing Sports Illustrated report published last night. The organization was described as "a real life Animal House" by one former employee.
Statements came from dozens of sources—a wide range of both current and former employees, both men and women—with many of the allegations directed at team president and CEO Terdema Ussery and his apparently well-known reputation as a serial sexual harasser. Though, according to the report, he was certainly not the only perpetrator.
Victims came forward and detailed accounts of Ussery verbally abusing women, propositioning employees for sex, and instances of public fondling—repeated with such a frequency that at least one of the women in the organization had quit as a result of it. One woman claimed that while speaking with Ussery about weekend plans he told her he knew what she was "definitely going to get gang-banged." She was not surprised, however, because when she took the job she said one her friends warned her, "Whatever you do, don't get trapped in an elevator with him."
All the way back in 1998, the Mavericks conducted an internal investigation after several women in the organization complained about Ussery's inappropriate conduct. The only repercussions, it seems, were that Ussery stayed with the organization, employee handbooks were revamped with a new sexual harassment policy, and a new head of H.R., Buddy Pittman, was brought on.
“They basically brought [Pittman] in to save T from himself,” says one former employee, referring to Ussery by his nickname.
Ussery—a highly accomplished sports executive with what many believed was a viable shot at NBA Commissioner—was later given a three-year contract extension in 1999, and retained by Mark Cuban when he purchased the team in 2000. He then left the Mavericks in 2015 to take on a role as president for global sports at Under Armour (which he promptly resigned from two months into his tenure, coinciding with claims of inappropriate behavior in an elevator).
The environment extended to, and was perhaps enabled by, Pittman's unresponsive and unsympathetic human resources department. One woman in the report claims she went to Pittman "countless times" to complain about Ussery's behavior to no avail. Mavericks VP of marketing, Scott Paul Monroe reportedly told one woman to "just take" Ussery's abuse because "he's the boss."
Other examples of the toxic atmosphere included one employee who allegedly watched porn at his desk, and the beat writer for Mavs.com, Earl K. Sneed, who was accused of domestic assault twice, once by a Mavs colleague. During the 2010-11 season, Sneed was involved in a domestic dispute, in which a police report said that Sneed sat on his girlfriend and slapped her. Two months later, he was arrested at the Mavericks offices for assault. Still employed with the Mavs, he later went on to date a fellow employee, who multiple sources claim Sneed hit during a domestic dispute at some point in 2014. The woman later came into work with a badly-swollen face. Sneed was only terminated yesterday, with the Mavericks issuing an evasive statement:
"In a separate matter, we have also learned that an employee misled the organization about a prior domestic violence incident. This employee was not candid about the situation and has been terminated."
In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Sneed claimed that the language used in the report was "inaccurate," but conceded that "the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of."
The self-proclaimed "hands-on" Cuban now finds himself at the center of a workplace environment he says he had no idea existed. In a statement to SI, Cuban outright denied any prior knowledge of this toxic culture.
“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.”
Cuban also said that he had been vigilant in checking with his HR department about potential issues, especially since the #MeToo movement has become such a significant part of the national dialogue. Yet also in the SI piece, one source claimed that Cuban certainly knew of the organization's rampant misogyny:
“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.”
While the front office was a horrorscape of misogyny and sexual harassment, apparently the actual locker room itself was something of a refuge for female employees. On former senior staffer told SI that her most anxious moments came at her desk among her colleagues, not when she was interacting with players.
“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.”
In a statement on the team website, the Mavericks said they had hired outside counsel to perform an independent investigation into the the specific allegations, as well as the general workplace environment. The NBA may also investigate, and could possibly discipline the team in various ways including, fines, suspensions, and the forfeiture of draft picks.