The NBA’s investigation into the Dallas Mavericks confirmed allegations of widespread sexual harassment and workplace misconduct, the league announced on Wednesday. As a result, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has agreed to donate $10 million to organizations committed to combating domestic violence and supporting the professional development of women in the sports industry.
The $10 million far exceeds the maximum $2.5 million penalty the NBA can levy against an owner, as the league did in response to racist remarks by former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
The NBA has also recommended that the Mavericks increase the number of women on staff, implement regular anonymous employee surveys and revamp both its reporting and investigative processes for sexual harassment claims. The Mavs will be required to provide the league office with quarterly reports on the progress of those recommendations. The team must also immediately report any further instances of workplace misconduct and mandate training for all staff, including Cuban, on issues related to respect in the workplace, domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s statement
“The findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and heartbreaking and no employee in the NBA, or any workplace for that matter, should be subject to the type of working environment described in the report,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “We appreciate that Mark Cuban reacted swiftly, thoroughly and transparently to the allegations first set forth in Sports Illustrated — including the immediate hiring of Cynthia Marshall as CEO to effect change, but as Mark has acknowledged, he is ultimately responsible for the culture and conduct of his employees. While nothing will undo the harm caused by a select few former employees of the Mavericks, the workplace reforms and the $10 million that Mark has agreed to contribute are important steps toward rectifying this past behavior and shining a light on a pervasive societal failing — the inability of too many organizations to provide a safe and welcoming workplace for women.”
The allegations against the Mavericks
Following a February 2018 Sports Illustrated article exposing a systematic failure to protect women inside the Mavericks organization, the NBA announced an investigation into the allegations headed by three former prosecutors. The league conducted 215 interviews with current and former Mavericks employees and reviewed more than 1.6 million documents, including electronic correspondence.
That investigation substantiated claims made to Sports Illustrated against former Mavericks president and CEO Terdema Ussery and former Mavs.com reporter Earl Sneed, as well as allegations levied in a Dallas Morning News report against former ticket sales employee Chris Hyde, a.k.a. “Pants DJ.”
According to an NBA statement, the league’s investigation discovered:
• Improper workplace conduct toward fifteen female employees by the Mavericks’ former President and CEO Terdema Ussery, including inappropriate comments, touching, and forcible kissing;
• Improper workplace conduct by former Mavericks ticket sales employee Chris Hyde, including inappropriate comments to women of a sexual nature, the viewing and sharing of pornographic images and videos, unsolicited and unwanted sexual advances, and violent and threatening outbursts toward co-workers; and
• Two acts of domestic violence perpetrated by former Mavs.com reporter Earl Sneed, including one against a team employee.
How much did Mark Cuban know?
While investigators found no evidence that Cuban was aware of the allegations against Ussery prior to the Sports Illustrated report, the NBA’s investigation did fault Mavericks management for failing to fire Sneed and Hyde following their respective incidents of domestic violence and inappropriate behavior.
For more than two decades, management’s missteps “permitted the growth of an environment in which acts of misconduct and the individuals who committed them could flourish,” the NBA said.
Cuban apologizes on ESPN: ‘I’m just sorry I didn’t see it’
Cuban was in studio for ESPN’s “The Jump” shortly after news of the investigation’s findings broke on Wednesday. Clearly shaken up on the broadcast, Cuban began the interview with an apology.
“First, just an apology to the women involved, the women who in a couple cases were assaulted, and not just to them, but to their families,” he said, “because this is not something that is just an incident and then it’s over. It stays with people. It stays with families, and I’m just sorry I didn’t see it. I’m just sorry I didn’t recognize it, and I just hope that out of this, we’ll be better and we can avoid it and we can just help make everybody smarter about the whole thing.”
Asked by host Rachel Nichols how such a hands-on owner and respected businessman could have missed such rampant misconduct, Cuban took ownership of his failures but had few answers beyond previous claims that he was more focused on basketball than finances when it came to the Mavericks.
“If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot,” Cuban said on the national broadcast. “It’s embarrassing to say. There were people who I just hadn’t met and hadn’t talked to.”
Cuban said he was not aware of public allegations against Ussery made prior to his purchasing of the team in 2000. In February, Cuban told ESPN that the decision to keep Sneed on staff despite multiple domestic violence incidents was his “final decision” and “a horrible mistake in hindsight.” According to the investigation, Cuban was informed of Hyde’s behavior multiple times over the past decade.
What steps have already been taken?
The NBA credited Cuban for fully cooperating with its investigation and following the league’s recommendations prior to the completion of its investigation. Cuban hired former AT&T senior executive Cynthia Marshall as his new CEO, and she took several immediate steps to revamp the team’s workplace environment, replacing the team’s general counsel and head of human resources in addition to creating new positions for executives in charge of ethics and diversity.
An advisory council made of several NBA executives and Mavericks officials, including Cuban and Marshall, will determine the women’s organizations to receive the billionaire’s $10 million pledge.
The NBA has also established a confidential hotline for employees to report misconduct.
Criticism of and allegations against Cuban
Following the original Sports Illustrated report, former Mavericks employee Melissa Weisenhaupt went public with details of Ussery’s alleged sexual harassment. She also took issue with Cuban’s claim that his focus was on the basketball operations side of the team rather than day-to-day business dealings.
“Sorry. It doesn’t work that way,” Weisenhaupt wrote to Sports Illustrated. “You own 100 percent of the team, Mark. The buck stops with you. When I worked on the Mavs’ business side, all marketing, promotional and broadcasting decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.
“I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, ‘Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call!’”
In 2011, Cuban was reportedly investigated for an alleged sexual assault at a bar in Portland, Oregon. Police never filed charges. Cuban denied the allegations when they were made public this past March.
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