Earl K. Sneed said during a radio interview Tuesday that, when he got out of jail after his 2011 arrest on an assault charge following a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend, he went straight to the Dallas Mavericks’ facility for a meeting, and team brass put him right back to work that very same day.
In their Sports Illustrated investigation into a Dallas “corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior,” journalists Jessica Luther and L. Jon Wertheim reported that 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. They cited a police report that claimed Sneed “sat on top of her and slapped her on the face and chest,” and told her, “I’m going to [bleeping] kick your ass. Today is gonna be the worst day of your life,” before leaving the scene prior to police arriving. The woman reportedly suffered a fractured right wrist and bruises on her arms and chest.
“Shortly after I got arrested, immediately when I got out, the team was actually flying to Salt Lake City,” the former Mavs.com beat writer told Jean-Jacques Taylor and Will Chambers during an appearance on their ESPN Dallas radio show on Tuesday, in his first public comments since a statement following his firing in the wake of SI’s investigation. “Immediately when I got out, I went to the office and I sat in Terdema Ussery’s office, and he said, ‘Hey, after everything that’s happened today, I don’t know what you want to do. I don’t know if you need time apart, or time away, to clear your head.'”
Ussery, then the team’s president and CEO, is described in the SI piece as having a “reputation as a serial sexual harasser of women.” The Mavericks conducted a six-week internal investigation into Ussery in 1998 after several female employees made complaints about his “inappropriate workplace behavior.” He was retained, spending nearly 20 years with the organization despite what two women described to SI as “years” of continued harassment. Ussery, who left the team in 2015, denied the allegations.
Also in the meeting: Buddy Pittman, the Mavericks’ vice president of human resources, whom the team had hired in 1998. (“They basically brought [Pittman] in to save [Ussery] from himself,” one former employee told SI.) Pittman was fired last week, too, as the Mavericks began to sift through the fallout from the years of missteps, oversights and errors of the past two decades.
“I said, ‘I just want to work. I just want to get back to work,'” Sneed said during the radio interview, recounting his conversation with Ussery and Pittman. “And I flew, and I met the team in Salt Lake City, and I got back to work.”
Sneed would later plead guilty to a pair of less serious misdemeanor charges that were dismissed after he paid a $750 fine, completed supervised community service, and enrolled in an anger management program.
After Sneed told that story, Chambers pressed him on whether he thought that course of action, in hindsight, represented the best course of action for an organization that now stands accused of turning a blind eye to years of alleged harassment and how that inaction might have impacted the women who worked for the Mavericks.
“It was [the best thing] for myself, because at the time, I needed to bury myself in work,” Sneed said. “It was a coping mechanism for me. If I focus in on work, then everything happening in my personal life will take care of itself. I just need something to focus in on right now. […] I can’t speak for how the organization should have handled it. I just know I was placed in a position where I was able to focus in on work, and I feel like I did that.”
Taylor, a longtime fixture in Dallas sports media and one of the hosts of the program, began the interview by saying that Sneed is “like a little brother to me,” and he “sent me a text [Monday] night saying he wanted to talk” about what’s transpired in the past week since all hell broke loose. Primarily, Sneed said, he wanted to clear up a follow-up in a local news report saying he’d been arrested twice over domestic disputes, which isn’t claimed in the SI story and isn’t true. He was arrested in 2011, but no charges were filed against him in a subsequent incident in 2014.
Despite it being his second such incident during his tenure with the team, and despite the woman he reportedly hit also being an employee of the Mavericks, Sneed retained his job with the team, under the condition that he sign a new contract stipulating that he “would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees” and would undergo counseling. Sneed offered some more information on how that unfolded during Tuesday’s interview.
“At that point, it became her word versus my word,” Sneed said. “She went to her supervisor, who led her to Buddy Pittman. I was called in by Buddy Pittman. He told me what her allegations were. I told him what my side of the story was. He said, ‘Well, she doesn’t want to pursue any legal action against you. She basically just wants to relocate.’ It was a live-in girlfriend, at the time. I said, ‘Well, I understand that.’ I understood what I did wrong in that situation.
“He told me that if I wanted to keep my employment with the Mavericks, either I could be terminated then, or I could agree to sign a contract basically saying I was not going to have any one-on-one communication with any female employees going forward, and also I was going to complete counseling,” he continued. “I completed the counseling, but also felt like I wanted additional counseling after that, which, I’ve continued counseling for the last four years.”
While the reports of Sneed’s pair of domestic violence incidents made headlines for the first time last week, he said he never made any concerted effort to sweep them under the rug, and didn’t believe the Mavericks had, either.
“I can’t say that the Mavericks tried to hide it,” said Sneed, who confirmed that he’s not operating under the constraints of any non-disclosure agreements when discussing his time with the Mavs. “Anyone that talked to me, I spoke pretty openly about it. I don’t know if anyone within the organization spoke openly about it. It was kind of one of those things where everyone seemed to know already, or seemed to draw their own conclusion off what they assumed happened. I didn’t really address it with anyone outside of Buddy Pittman.”
In the statement he released to the Dallas Morning News after his firing, Sneed claimed that “language used” in the SI report to describe his domestic violence issues was “not accurate.” During the radio interview, he took issue with the police report’s assertion that he “fled before the reporting officer arrived” at the scene of the 2011 incident, claiming that he left before he even knew police had been called, and not because police were on their way.
“That was a combustible relationship that I was trying to get out of,” Sneed said. “A couple of weeks before that, she had punched me in my eye and given me a black eye. I had gone to work with scratches on my neck. I was in the process of moving. That incident turned violent. My parents showed up. It was Super Bowl weekend down here, actually, I remember. My parents showed up. I had tickets for them to go to the NFL Experience. I go downstairs, I was wearing a yellow shirt, bloody all over my body, and my parents said, ‘Hey, you need to come over to our house. You need to get away from this woman right now and come over to our house.'”
Sneed did say that he “open-hand slap[ped] her to get her off of me,” but claimed he had no idea how she suffered the fractured wrist that would later be described in the police report.
“I went back upstairs,” he continued. “She had locked the doors on me. I put my shoulder into the door. It broke the door off the hinges. I grabbed my stuff. She actually helped me move my stuff out, and then I heard her say, ‘Ouch’ — she dropped a bag, bag split, it was in a trash bag, it split, I went back and grabbed the stuff and moved on. That’s the reason why the police report says the things that it did: because I didn’t comment on the police report. I didn’t ‘evade’ police. I wasn’t there. I didn’t even know police were there. […] The author did a good job of accurately describing what’s in the police report. It’s just that what’s in the police report didn’t actually happen.”
The hosts asked: Why break the door off the hinges?
“I didn’t know I was going to do that,” Sneed said. “At the time, I was about 10 or 15 pounds heavier. I was really at the gym a lot. I just put my shoulder into the door and the door broke. I was not thinking that was going to happen. I was trying to get her attention so I could get my stuff and leave. I wasn’t expecting anything, honestly. I was just trying to grab my things. That added to the scene that police later showed up to, I’m sure, but at the time, I was not trying to intimidate her. I was just trying to get my things to leave.”
While saying he was “not trying to cop out of what my role in the incident was,” Sneed did say that, at that time, he “had never dealt with someone charging at me or coming at me, so I didn’t really know what my response should be.” Under those circumstances, he said, the long-established edict of “don’t put your hands on women” had an expiration date.
“So you put up with it for a certain amount of time, until you get to a point where you’re like, ‘I have to do something to protect myself,’ at the same time,” he said. “So I’m not sitting here saying what I did was right, or what I did could not have been avoided, because it could have. I’ve learned since then, through the counseling that I’ve gone through, the art of walking away from situations, and doing so a lot sooner.”
Chambers came back at Sneed, though, noting that even if you bought that in the case of the 2011 dispute, it certainly doesn’t give him an out for the 2014 incident.
“It happened again because, honestly, when I was going through the counseling of the first situation, I wasn’t addressing myself,” Sneed said. “I was addressing, ‘Well, in the future, leave the situation. The problem is with her.’ And honestly, the problem was also with me, because I didn’t know how to address my own actions in those situations. So, in 2014, when a different situation occurred, I still didn’t know how to alleviate the situation by how to conduct myself in that situation. That’s basically what happened. In the four years since then, I’ve understood — like you said, I’m the common denominator in both situations. I need to look at my own actions, and that’s what I’ve done over the last four years.”
Sneed expressed gratitude for the Mavericks continuing to employ and support him over those four years, saying that “when you show that much loyalty in me, and know that I can be a better human being, then I’m going to give you everything that I have.” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for his part, said last week that keeping Sneed on staff after the first incident, and again after the second, was “a horrible mistake.”
“What I missed, and it was truly a f— up on my part, because I was not there [at the Mavericks’ office], I looked at everything anecdotally,” Cuban told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “My real f— up was I didn’t recognize the impact it would have on all the other employees. […] 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 OK for Earl to do that, who knows what else is OK in the workplace? I missed that completely. I missed it completely.”
Sneed, who insists he never had a one-on-one meeting with Cuban about any of this after either of his incidents, turned down the opportunity to respond to Cuban’s comments.
“There were a lot of things said in that article that I could’ve easily taken a certain way, but if I do that, then it takes away from me having my own accountability in the situation,” he said. “So anything that Mark said in that situation, that’s what he chose to say. I don’t have a rebuttal to it or anything […] I believe whether there was lines of communication that wasn’t there between Buddy Pittman and the higher-ups, whatever the case, when [Cuban] says he had no full knowledge of the situation, then I’m going to take his word for it.”
The NBA continues to keep a close eye on the independent investigation into what transpired in the Mavericks organization, with questions of what Cuban knew and when he knew it very much at the front of observers’ minds. Sneed said he doesn’t believe the franchise essentially created the circumstances in which he could assault a fellow employee in 2014 by keeping him around after 2011.
“I think the wise man that I had the opportunity to be coming out of that situation — I was 26 years old — I could have grown from that situation and not put myself in that situation again,” said Sneed, who added that he continues to undergo counseling once every couple of weeks. “So, I’m going to take full responsibility for that. That’s not on the Mavericks. The Mavericks are a great organization, from top to bottom, and they put me in a position to succeed. I put myself in that situation in 2014. That’s not on the Mavericks.”
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