Just a few years back, the Dallas Mavericks had employees stepping forward to complain of a predatory work environment. Owner Mark Cuban admitted he made a mistake by not being involved enough in the franchise’s business side, which allowed everything to fester, and all this led to a complete overhaul of the team’s business operations. Cuban hired Cynthia Marshall to be the CEO and tasked her with changing the culture.
The Mavericks were given the NBA’s Inclusion Leadership Award and Cuban said the sexual-harassment scandal was behind them.
Which is why a report Wednesday by Sports Illustrated of an alleged sexual assault by a member of the Mavericks’ basketball operations staff felt like the opening of an old would by many.
The SI story details the alleged assault in some detail (she says it took place at Summer League 2019 in Las Vegas) and the frustrations of the woman — who was not an employee of the Dallas Mavericks — in getting what she saw as justice.
Yet here it was a year later, and a woman was contacting the Mavericks about an executive she said had forced himself on her late at night in a Las Vegas hotel room. Today, another 10 months later, the incident has not yielded punishment, or, in Sarah’s view, justice. A lawyer for Ronzone denied Sarah’s account in a statement, describing her claims as “meritless.” Marshall told SI that the Mavericks investigated the matter, and Ronzone remains with the team, because “there was no evidence presented of sexual assault.” She said that a group of “seasoned investigators” had examined the issue for the team. “It is our process to investigate thoroughly,” Marshall said.
But SI found that the Mavericks were not able to obtain key pieces of evidence: Sarah [the victim, this is not her real name] told multiple people her account of the incident in its direct aftermath—including one person, in a phone call, minutes after she says it happened. These so-called contemporaneous accounts are considered critical and potentially weighty in cases with no eyewitnesses.
The Mavericks put out a detailed release questioning the Sports Illustrated story, saying they had not been granted access to the evidence in question, neither during the initial investigation — when the victim did not mention it to them — or in the past month working with SI and the victim’s lawyers.
The Mavericks on Wednesday issued a lenghty statement in response to a Sports Illustrated report detailing a new sexual assault allegation against a front-office executive, saying they are "appalled" it would be published without the team receiving "all of the purpoted evidence" pic.twitter.com/hNkValMFhF
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 29, 2020
This is a different situation than the work environment issue that plagued the Mavericks in the past. That’s not a statement on the validity of the victim’s accusations, nor does it excuse the actions of the Mavericks’ employee accused, but she was not a Dallas’ employee and this was not in a work setting. This is about the alleged actions of someone in Dallas basketball operations, but during the workplace complaint a few years back the team employees who came forward said the basketball side of the house had not been the issue.
However, it needs to be taken seriously. Dallas and Marshall felt it had been, but with new information and the case in the light of day, the incident needs to be revisited. Victims of sexual assault in this country enter a system stacked against them from the start, the NBA needs to be better than that poor standard.
Dallas has said it has changed. This situation is a test of that.