One of the former Dallas Mavericks employees named in a Sports Illustrated investigation into a “corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior” has issued a statement about his involvement in the incidents included in the report. The statement seems to raise more questions than it answers — specifically about how much Mavericks owner Mark Cuban knew about the nature and extent of the issues within his organization.
In their story, Jessica Luther and L. Jon Wertheim reported that Earl K. Sneed, a full-time beat writer for the Mavericks’ website since the 2010-11 season, was “involved in a domestic dispute with a girlfriend” midway through his first season on the job:
According to a Dallas police report, Sneed “sat on top of her and slapped her on the face and chest.” At one point he told the woman, “I’m going to f—— kick your ass. Today is gonna be the worst day of your life.” Sneed, according to the report, “fled before the reporting officer arrived.” The woman, according to the report, suffered a fractured right wrist and bruises on her arms and chest in the altercation.
Two months later, Sneed was arrested at the Mavericks facility and charged with assault, a class A misdemeanor. On June 28, 2012, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of family violence assault and interference with emergency request. He was sentenced to a $750 fine, supervised community service, and enrollment in an anger management program. Upon completion of his sentence the charges were dismissed. (Contacted by SI, Sneed declined comment.)
The Mavericks continued to employ Sneed after his arrest, plea deal and completion of his sentence. Two years later, he was reportedly involved in another incident:
After his plea, Sneed dated a Mavericks colleague, a relationship the two made public in keeping with the team’s fraternization policies. Multiple sources tell SI that in 2014 the couple had a dispute and Sneed turned violent, hitting the woman.
Her face swollen, she went to work but within days reported the incident to her immediate supervisor and to [Mavericks head of human resources Buddy] Pittman. The woman recalls Pittman being professional and supportive; she also recalls Pittman informing her of Sneed’s prior arrest. In retrospect, she wonders how Sneed could have stayed employed. “He shouldn’t have a job there,” she says.
Sneed retained his job there until Tuesday. In a statement released hours before SI published its investigation, the Mavericks said that “an employee misled the organization about a prior domestic violence incident. This employee was not candid about the situation and has been terminated.” That employee was Sneed, who deleted his Twitter account on Tuesday night and issued a statement to the Dallas Morning News:
“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 [Mavs vice president of human resources] Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend. I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances.
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.”
When SI asked Pittman “why the team would continue employing Sneed when, already having pled guilty to criminal charges for violence against one woman, he allegedly physically assaulted another woman — who was also a team employee — [he] declined comment.” Cuban told SI on Monday that he’d just fired Pittman and suspended Sneed; one day later, Sneed, too, was fired.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” Cuban told SI.
Cuban, who bought a majority stake in the Mavericks in January 2000 and has consistently branded himself as one of the most hands-on franchise governors in all of professional sports, claimed that the “wrong” and “abhorrent” revelations in SI’s report were “all new to [him].”
“I deferred to the CEO, who at the time was Terdema [Ussery, on whose lengthy history of alleged and reported incidents SI’s investigation focuses], and to HR,” said Cuban. “I was involved in basketball operations, but other than getting the financials and reports, I was not involved in the day to day [of the business side] at all. That’s why I just deferred. I let people do their jobs. And if there were anything like this at all I was supposed to be made aware, obviously I was not.”
The specifics of Sneed’s situation as relayed in the SI report, and the language of Sneed’s Tuesday statement, raise questions about the credibility of Cuban’s claim to have been unaware of the situation.
How would an owner so famously devoted to the minutiae of the way his team was covered that he revoked ESPN.com’s credentials to make a statement about the perils of automated game stories not know that his team’s own full-time beat writer — one who, as Luther and Wertheim note, first got a freelance look from the team by cold-emailing Cuban, and was bumped up to full-time only after another direct conversation with the owner — was prevented by his assault record from traveling to Canada to cover road games against the Toronto Raptors? How would an owner whose attention to detail drills down to the specific selection and broadcast of replays not be aware that one of the organization’s public-facing employees was arrested at the Mavericks’ facility, and was then presented with a contract specifically forbidding that employee from having one-on-one contact with female colleagues? If Cuban was completely siloed from Sneed’s arrest, subsequent incidents, contract and “counseling,” then why the thanks to Cuban for “facilitating [Sneed’s] growth” in the years since the incidents?
“Trust me, Mark knows everything that goes on,” one longtime former Mavericks employee told SI. “Of course Mark knew [about the instances of harassment and assault]. Everyone knew.”
Establishing a counseling/support hotline for team employees and mandating sensitivity training throughout the Mavericks organization are fine steps, but they don’t even come close to addressing the issues at hand. These are serious questions that will require serious answers.
“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.”
The NBA issued a statement Tuesday night saying that the conduct alleged in Sports Illustrated’s report “runs counter to the steadfast commitment of the NBA and its teams to foster safe, respectful and welcoming workplaces for all employees,” and that the league “will closely monitor the [Mavericks’] independent investigation into this matter.” It’s clear that this isn’t the end of this story. Not by a long shot.
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