Report: Mavericks have “Animal House” predatory work environment; team investigating

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The overdue wave of pushback against sexual harassment and predatory practices against women in the workplace, and the #metoo movement, which has toppled many powerful men, has come crashing down on the Dallas Mavericks.

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther have released a lengthy expose looking at the business and game operations side of the Dallas Mavericks organization, and the picture of a Mad Man-esque old boys club is damning. While some of the detailed instances date back seven years, part of the point of the article is that the culture continues.

“It was a real life Animal House,” says one former organization employee who left recently after spending roughly five years with the Mavs. “And I only say ‘was’ because I’m not there anymore. I’m sure it’s still going on.”

(Former team president and CEO, Terdema) Ussery, who left the Mavericks in 2015, was hardly alone. Interviews with more than a dozen former and current Mavericks employees in different departments, conducted during a months-long SPORTS ILLUSTRATED investigation, paint a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior: alleged public fondling by the team president; outright domestic assault by a high-profile member of the Mavs.com staff; unsupportive or even intimidating responses from superiors who heard complaints of inappropriate behavior from their employees; even an employee who openly watched pornography at his desk. Most sources did not want their names used for a variety of reasons including fear of retaliation and ostracization and limits imposed by agreements they signed with the team.

While sources referred to the Mavericks office as a “locker room culture,” the team’s actual locker room was a refuge. Says one female former senior staffer: “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.”

The Mavericks hired an independent investigator to look into the issues, both specific allegations in the story — such as domestic abuse by former Mavs.com writerEarl K. Sneed which was allegedly ignored (he has been fired in the wake of these revelations) — and the business-side culture. The Mavericks also released a statement that said in part:

The Mavericks organization takes these allegations extremely seriously. Yesterday we notified the league office and immediately hired outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. The investigation will focus on the specific allegations related to this former employee, and will look more broadly at our company’s workplace practices and policies. In addition, an employee whose job was to receive and investigate such complaints and report them accurately and fully, has been suspended pending the conclusion of our investigation.

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….

We are committed — to our employees, our team and our fans — to meet the goals of dignity, security and fairness that define the Dallas Mavericks.

Mark Cuban, the very prominent Mavericks owner, told SI he knew nothing of this. He said while very hands-on and active on the basketball side of the operation, he let his CEO and other executives run the business side. The report said that the head of Human Resources was very aware of the problem but did nothing about it (he has just recently been fired over all of this). Cuban told SI he had no idea.

“…this is brand new to me. Brand new, relative to when you started looking into it. Brand new to somebody’s assertions and questions you’ve asked. Brand new to me. It’s wrong. It’s abhorrent. It’s not a situation we condone. I mean, I literally, I can’t tell you how many times particularly since all [#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 asked him again today. Have we done exit interviews like you refer to? Has anybody said anything? Are there any indications that maybe there was something out there and we didn’t pay enough attention to it? No, no, no, no, no, every time.”

“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.”

Did Cuban not know? He always portrayed himself as very involved, as a guy who was on top of the little things in the organization, but he missed this? Did he not want to know and looked the other way because the revenue numbers were good from the business side?

The NBA released this statement:

“The Dallas Mavericks have informed us of the allegations involving former team president Terdema Ussery and Mavs.com writer Earl 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. Such behavior is completely unacceptable and we will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter.”

Ussery denied the allegations, saying there were no charges were filed against him.

This is a massive black eye for the league — the NBA has cultivated an image as the most progressive and inclusive of the professional sports leagues in America. This blows it up. Dallas is also not the only team rumored to be facing potential serious sexual harassment issues on the business side.

Expect Adam Silver to come down hard on the Mavericks as an example — he has to both send a message to other teams and to the world that this is not okay. What he might do really depends on what the future investigation finds, but this isn’t going to be some little tampering slap on the wrist fine. This is about the image for the league and Silver fiercely protects that.