Responding Tuesday to a Sports Illustrated story alleging a “corrosive” workplace culture within his NBA team, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he was “embarrassed” and vowed to fix the problem. The lengthy story recounted numerous alleged instances of sexual harassment and abuse, as well as apparent indifference to them, by staffers and highly placed executives with the team.
Based on claims made by former and current Mavericks employees, many of whom were women who requested not to be identified, plus events already on the record, SI’s story painted, as the magazine put it, “a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior.”
In a statement issued shortly before SI published its article, Cuban’s organization emphasized that the former team president whose alleged behavior is at the center of the story “left the employment of the Mavericks nearly three years ago.” Terdema Ussery, who was hired as president three years before Cuban bought the team in 2000 and stayed on in the job until June 2015, was accused by one Mavs employee of predicting she was soon “going to get gang-banged,” and by another of repeatedly asking her to have sex with him and promising he’d leave his wife if she did so.
Professing ignorance of the corporate culture portrayed by SI, Cuban told the magazine, “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.”
Besides hiring an outside law firm to conduct “a thorough and independent investigation,” the Mavericks said they had fired Buddy Pittman, their human resources director, and had earlier fired an employee who “misled the organization about a prior domestic violence incident.”
That employee was identified by SI as Earl K. Sneed, a former beat writer for the Mavs’ website who allegedly committed multiple acts of domestic assault, including against another team employee. Pittman was described as espousing “overt social and religious leanings” that had “a chilling effect on the willingness to approach him with sensitive workplace issues.”
Cuban told ESPN on Wednesday that he took sole responsibility for and regretted his handling of Sneed, saying he thought it better to keep the reporter on staff and make domestic abuse counseling a requirement of his continued employment.
“What I missed — and it was truly a f—up on my part because I was not there [at the Mavs’ office] — I looked at everything anecdotally,” Cuban said to ESPN. “My real f—up was I didn’t recognize the impact it would have on all the other employees. … I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
“What I missed, again, is I didn’t realize the impact that it would have on the workplace and on the women that worked here, and how it sent a message to them that, if it was okay for Earl to do that, who knows what else is okay in the workplace?” Cuban added. “I missed that completely. I missed it completely.”
A former Mavs employee said that Pittman was “basically brought in to save [Ussery] from himself,” after the team conducted a probe into female employees’ complaints about the then-president’s behavior. Ussery was accused of putting his hand “about halfway up” a female employee’s thigh when talking with her while they were both sitting in chairs. Another claimed he suggestively told her, “[S]eriously … just one time.”
Ussery denied the allegations, saying in a statement to SI, “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.” Now a corporate consultant following a brief stint with Under Armour, he added, “I believe these misleading claims about me are part of an attempt to shift blame for the failure to remove [other] employees who created an uncomfortable and hostile work environment within the Mavericks organization.”
Sneed, who was arrested in 2012 and pleaded guilty to family violence assault, said in a statement Tuesday, “While both instances described in the report are damning and language used is not accurate, the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of. I underwent much counseling after both situations, under the direction of Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. … I thank Buddy Pittman for helping me to grow during that time, and I thank Mark Cuban for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.”
In a statement Tuesday, the NBA said the Mavs had informed the league “of the allegations involving” Ussery and Sneed.
“This alleged conduct runs counter to the steadfast commitment of the NBA and its teams to foster safe, respectful and welcoming workplaces for all employees,” the league’s statement said. “Such behavior is completely unacceptable and we will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter.”
“I want to deal with this issue,” Cuban told SI. “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.”
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