The #MeToo movement has finally gripped the National Basketball Association. Not long after the Dallas Mavericks issued a statement announcing the launch of an internal investigation into misconduct within their organization, Sports Illustrated dropped a weighty exposé, which divulged the extent of the organization’s two-decades-long alleged culture of harassment and misogyny. For two decades, the Mavericks have been considered a model franchise. However, the accusations presented by SI have cast a pall over their organization’s pristine reputation.
“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.”
The bulk of SI’s reporting, following conversations with dozens of current and former employees, centered around the lascivious behavior toward women by former team president and CEO Terdema Ussery. A pattern of conduct that began prior to Mark Cuban buying the team in 1999 reportedly continued afterwards and permeated throughout the organization until his departure in 2015.
During the summer of 1998, the Mavericks hired Buddy Pittman to serve as their head of human resources and to reel in Ussery. However, Pittman’s outspoken conservative opinions on abortion, gay marriage and various social issues had the opposite effect, making many women reluctant to report violations of workplace misconduct to the department, SI reported. In a response to SI, Mark Cuban disclosed that Pittman had been fired.
In another incident relayed to SI, Mavericks VP of marketing Paul Monroe allegedly told an underling who complained about Ussery to “just take” the abuse and threatened to fire her if she spoke up.
Wrote the woman, I felt threatened not only for my safety but he was threatening my position within the company.
Ussery later became head of global sports for Under Armour in 2015. However, he discovered a stricter workplace enforcement on misconduct there, ultimately resigning two months after he allegedly sexually harassed a female co-worker. Ussery released a statement denying the accusations levied against him.
“I am deeply disappointed that anonymous sources have made such outright false and inflammatory accusations against me,” Ussery said in a statement to SI on Tuesday. “During my career with the Mavericks, I have strived to conduct myself with character, integrity and empathy for others.
“During my nearly 20 year tenure with the Mavericks, I am not aware of any sexual harassment complaints about me or any findings by the organization that I engaged in inappropriate conduct. In fact, on multiple occasions I and other senior executives at the organization raised concerns—both in person and in emails—about other Mavericks employees who had engaged in highly inappropriate—and in some cases, threatening—sexual conduct. The organization refused to address these concerns, and I believe these misleading claims about me are part of an attempt to shift blame for the failure to remove employees who created an uncomfortable and hostile work environment within the Mavericks organization.”
Earl K. Sneed, a full-time beat writer for Mavs.com, remained employed after his arrest for a misdemeanor assault on his girlfriend in 2012, only to allegedly assault a second female colleague he began dating in 2014. His employment status remained unchanged until a few days ago.
Incidentally, the players became a refuge from the misogyny and inappropriate front-office “locker room talk.”
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.”
Cuban expressed shock and outrage when he was confronted with the details uncovered by Sports Illustrated. He suspended, then fired many of the aforementioned subjects still employed by the Mavericks. Unfortunately, he’ll have to explain his obliviousness to the situation, given his reputation as a hands-on, detail-oriented NBA owner. He may also have to respond to accusations from former employees who believe he purposely turned a blind eye to misbehavior, Ussery’s in particular, for the sake of protecting the organization’s bottom line.
The NBA released a statement late Tuesday addressing the allegations. “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,” league spokesperson Mike Bass said in the statement. “Such behavior is completely unacceptable and we will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter.”
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