The long-awaited 43-page report into the culture of the Dallas Mavericks’ business operation shows the rot that occurred when harassers and abusers occupied positions of power and were left to operate unchecked.
The former CEO, Terdema Ussery, was found to have harassed 15 current and former employees, in incidences that varied from inappropriate comments to a forceful, unwanted kiss. The ousted head of human resources, Buddy Pittman, bullied employees who came forward to report his boss’ behavior and harassed four women himself. The fired top ticket seller, Chris Hyde, was spotted watching pornography by 14 employees, and at least 50 had heard rumors of it. The report also confirms that a condom once fell out of his pant leg and was left on the ground; he was allowed to keep his job even after that incident, even though it was caught on video and viewed by his superiors. The story made it all the way to Cuban. Hyde’s boss, George Prokos, did little to get Hyde to change his behavior. Earl Sneed, the Mavericks’ beat reporter, was found to be not credible in two allegations that he beat up his significant others, one of whom was an employee and arrived to work with makeup covering a black eye.
The report confirms the majority of what had been reported in Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, and the Dallas Morning News. It also finds that owner Mark Cuban was unaware of Ussery’s behavior, but made “significant errors in judgement” related to many of the other cases. Cuban has promised to donate $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.” Those will be chosen by a committee that includes Cuban, new CEO Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, and Kathy Behtrans, the NBA’s president of Social Responsibility and Player Programs.
Cuban will not be suspended, nor were the Mavericks punished with a basketball-related penalty, such as giving up draft picks. The NBA has never doled out that punishment for a business-related offense. The report clearly separates the basketball operations from the business side, which, until 2017, had been three miles apart. Cuban mostly corresponded with his business employees through text and email.
“Many female employees were subjected to harassment and were justifiably concerned that they might be subjected to such conduct again,” reads the report’s concluding remarks. “It was not an accident that the individuals discussed in this report were able to thrive for so long at the Mavericks. Rather, it was the Mavericks’ organizational shortcomings that permitted the growth of an environment in which these individuals and their misconduct could flourish.”
The report offers a long narrative of related behavior from Ussery. He would touch his employees: massaging their shoulders, hugging too close, spin his finger in the palm of women’s hands and the smalls of their backs. In one case, he pulled up an employee’s shirt to see a scar below her ribcage; the incident was interrupted by his secretary. When women reported his behavior, they were often summoned to Pittman’s office, who would say things like this: “Well, that didn’t happen, did it? Because he’s a married man. You know he’s a good Christian man. He would never do that.” Employees told investigators that they saw complainants leave his office in tears. His behavior chilled others from coming forward, which allowed behavior from people like Hyde to continue.
Cuban isn’t totally exonerated. The investigation found that Cuban learned of his proclivity to watch pornography at work after discovery for a lawsuit turned up saved pornographic images. Cuban sent him this email:
If you have any offensive pictures on your PC at the Mavs Chris, I will have you fired on the spot. No questions asked. I dont [sic] give a shit what you do on your own, but when its [sic] on a work computer, that crosses the line.
He was also told of the condom incident, to which he sent this email:
“Don’t make a bigger issue out of it than it is. Send [H]yde a letter saying the behavior is unacceptable that he is put on probation or whatever we can do and that another incident will result in termination.”
The investigation paints Cuban as almost totally hands off on the business side. When he’s notified of problems, he delegates to his department heads and steps away. One of the report’s recommendations is that his duties on the business side be specifically defined. He spoke with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on Wednesday, saying, “We did a lot of things wrong, and I wasn’t there to oversee him. Everybody has every reason to question me, but I wasn’t there. That was my fault.”
As part of its punishment, the NBA has required the Mavericks to provide quarterly reports on its progress in all 13 of the investigators’ recommendations. They range from providing informal harassment reporting processes, Respect in the Workplace training, executing anonymous workplace culture and sexual harassment surveys, clarifying what Cuban’s role is within the business organization, strengthen and expanding its HR department, and hiring a full-time, in-house general counsel.
Marshall, the new CEO, already has a leg up on a number of these recommendations. Her recently completed 100-day plan included workplace harassment training for all employees, executives, players, and coaches. She hired a new head of HR in Tarsha LaCour, who had launched her own in-house investigation. The company has a new human resources director and promoted an employee to be the vice president of diversity and inclusion. At the time of the report, there were zero women in leadership roles. Now, about half are female. Cyndee Wales, the chief ethics and compliance officer, also created a new Code of Conduct that was modeled after the NBA’s.
Marshall joined Anne Milgram, New Jersey’s ex-attorney general and the co-author of the report, in an afternoon press conference. She apologized to former team employees and thanked those who came forward and spoke to Milgram and her co-counsel. “I can’t imagine working in that kind of environment,” she said.
Near the end of her remarks, Marshall said that she feels like the Mavs can be an exemplary organization going forward, and that they “get to define what happens when you have a diverse group of people at the table.” The organization is aiming to be the standard for how NBA teams address inclusion and diversity.
She also said she likes Milgram, but never wanted to see her again.