Mark Cuban on Wednesday took full responsibility for the decision to continue employing a writer for the Dallas Mavericks’ website for multiple years after two separate cases of domestic violence. The Mavericks owner acknowledged that while he didn’t know the full details of Earl K. Sneed’s incidents, he knew enough that he shouldn’t have made “a horrible mistake” by keeping him on staff.
“I want to be clear, I’m not putting the blame on anybody else,” Cuban told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “It came down to my final decision that I made.”
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. Sneed was arrested at the Mavericks’ facility two months later and charged with assault. He’d 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.
Two years later, Sneed once again allegedly became involved in a domestic violence incident. SI reported that during a 2014 dispute between Sneed and a female Mavericks colleague he’d been dating, “Sneed turned violent, hitting the woman.” She later reported the incident to Buddy Pittman, the Mavericks’ head of human resources, whom she said told her about Sneed’s prior arrest … which made her wonder why he still had a job with the team.
Sneed retained his job until Tuesday, when, in an attempt to get ahead of the coming SI story, the Mavericks released a statement saying that an employee who had “misled the organization about a prior domestic violence incident and “was not candid about the situation” had been fired. That employee was Sneed.
In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Sneed claimed that he “signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after” the second incident and that he underwent counseling in the years that followed “to avoid future instances,” and thanked Cuban “for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.”
The statement raised serious questions about just how much Cuban knew about Sneed’s incidents, when he knew it and why he responded as he did. Cuban told MacMahon that he knew some of what had transpired, but not the “gruesome details” of it … which, in and of itself, puts the outspoken owner on shaky ground as the Mavericks begin an internal investigation into the matter.
In hindsight, Cuban said, “I would have fired [Sneed] and still made him go to counseling” after learning details of the first domestic violence incident, expressing regret for not following up with police to discover those details. […]
“It was bad, but we made a mistake about the whole thing and didn’t pursue what happened with the police after the fact,” Cuban told ESPN. “So we got it mostly from Earl’s perspective, and because we didn’t dig in with the details — and obviously it was a horrible mistake in hindsight — we kind of, I don’t want to say took his word for it, but we didn’t see all the gruesome details until just recently. I didn’t read the police report on that until just [Tuesday], and that was a huge mistake obviously.”
And so, Sneed retained his job, continuing to cover and travel with the team — save for trips to cover road games against the Toronto Raptors, since his assault record prevented him from entering Canada — in 2014, when the second incident SI reported took place. So, why not axe him then? Why have him sign a contract barring him from one-on-one contact with women employed by the Mavericks? How could Cuban explain that?
Here’s how he tried, via MacMahon:
“So when the second time came around … the way I looked at it was — and, again, in hindsight it was a mistake — but I didn’t want to just fire him, because them he would go out there and get hired again and do it somewhere else,” Cuban told ESPN. “That’s what I was truly afraid of and that was the discussion we had internally. It was a choice between just firing him and making sure that we had control of him. So I made the decision, it was my decision and again, in hindsight, I would probably do it differently. I made the decision that we would make him go to domestic abuse counseling as a requirement to continued employment, that he was not allowed to be alone without a chaperone in the presence of any other women in the organization or any other women in a business setting at all, and he was not allowed to date anybody [who works for the Mavericks]. From that point on — and the investigators are going to see if we missed anything else — he appeared to abide by all those rules, as far as I knew.
“So that was my decision. 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. My real f— up was I didn’t recognize the impact it would have on all the other employees. I looked at this as a one-off situation where, OK, if I don’t do anything, this person could go out there and do damage on another [woman] another time. Or do I say, can we get him counseling to try to prevent that from happening again? 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 OK for Earl to do that, who knows what else is OK in the workplace? I missed that completely. I missed it completely.”
So: Cuban’s previous claims that the “wrong” and “abhorrent” revelations in SI’s report were “all new to [him]” were, at best, not totally true. (Cuban declined comment on SI’s reporting on the allegations made against former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery, on whose lengthy history of alleged and reported incidents SI focused its investigation.) Cuban knew that Sneed had been arrested for domestic violence, never sought out police details on what actually happened, and kept him on payroll. Then, after a second incident, he tried to quarantine the problem, ostensibly in an effort to rehabilitate Sneed, rather than firing him to make a clear statement that such behavior is unacceptable, intolerable and unworthy of reward through continued employment.
In the meantime, according to SI, the woman Sneed assaulted “decided the Mavericks were an unsafe work environment for her and quit her job,” only re-entering the professional sports business after applying for more than 250 jobs over an eight-month period. And, according to SI, several other women who used to work for the Mavs or American Airlines Center “left the sports sector because of a work environment and structure that left them feeling vulnerable and devalued while protecting — and continuing to employ — powerful men who misbehaved.”
Cuban’s right on this much: throughout this process, he made gigantic, troubling mistakes based on tortured logic that, despite his best efforts at explaining it, remains all but inexplicable, and I don’t think that’s only the case with the benefit of hindsight. He will be called to account for this by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, likely sooner rather than later; as Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann notes, the NBA’s constitution “makes clear that Silver can severely punish any franchise, owner or team employee who, in Silver’s opinion, is guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA.”
More will be revealed on many fronts — the extent of the poisonous behavior within the Mavericks organization, how Cuban and his lieutenants did or did not deal with the evident problems, what’s ultimately provable enough for Silver and the league office to punish, how severely he’d drop the hammer on the Dallas franchise, etc. This much, though, we can now say: when it comes to Earl K. Sneed, despite his best intentions and whatever remorse he might have now, Mark Cuban did engage in conduct detrimental to the NBA, to his franchise and, most importantly, to the employees in his care. Total ignorance wouldn’t have been an excuse. Selective ignorance coupled with woefully misguided inaction likely won’t be one, either.
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