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Mark Cuban “didn’t know” and that’s not okay

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Not knowing isn’t much better than knowing and not acting.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The response by the Dallas Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban to the allegations raised in Sports Illustrated’s damning investigation has been, in a word, bullshit.

The article describes a toxic workplace culture in which sexual assault and domestic violence went virtually unpunished. As the article makes clear, it’s difficult to believe that Mark Cuban didn’t know what was happening. As one of (if not the) most hands-on owners in the league, it seems incredibly far-fetched that he would be completely unaware of his own CEO’s behavior.

But even if he were completely in the dark, his ignorance is no excuse. It is his responsibility as owner to understand what is happening in his organization and to protect the wellbeing of his employees.

When my son was a baby, a driver nearly ran her car into us as I was crossing the street with his stroller. We were in a crosswalk, with a walk sign, when the driver backed her car through the stripes while parking. After I banged on her trunk, she stopped, rolled down her window, and said “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there!”

Which was the absolute worst thing she could’ve said. If you’re driving a car, it’s your responsibility to watch for pedestrians in a crosswalk. Not seeing us was offered as a reasonable explanation, but of course she wasn’t deliberately trying to mow us down. The only way she could’ve not seen us is if she was not looking where she was going. The very fact that she didn’t see us there is what made it reckless — it’s not an excuse.

It is incredibly difficult to imagine that someone in Cuban’s position could remain blissfully ignorant of the goings on of such a high-ranking member of his organization unless he were doing so willfully. By doing so, he ignored the personal and professional well-being of the Mavericks’ female employees. As an owner, it’s his job to be aware of the organization’s work environment as experienced by all people who work for him. He failed a number of them miserably.

Nothing in his response acknowledges that. Launching an investigation is the right thing to do, but Cuban also owes it to the women who work and have worked for him to take responsibility for his ignorance.

In the full remarks posted by SI today, Cuban expresses remorse:

I want to deal with this this issue. I mean, this is, I 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.

I believe that remorse is sincere. But he continues to plead ignorance as if that absolves him of the situation. Like the reckless driver, Cuban’s first instinct is to throw up a moral barrier between himself and judgment, to inoculate himself against claims that he’s a bad person. “I didn’t see!” “I didn’t know!”

But this isn’t about Mark Cuban as a person, it’s about Mark Cuban as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks — “I don’t know” is an admission that he’s shirking one of his responsibilities as an owner.

Terdema Ussery didn’t seem to feel the need to hide the behavior he’s accused of. It’s clear from the SI article that he’s alleged to have acted in plain view of journalists and other employees without fear of rebuke or retribution. And while it is perhaps possible that Cuban never saw him assault a woman or heard him ask someone about getting “gang-banged” on the weekend, it is impossible to believe that over the better part of two decades, he never saw or heard anything that should’ve raised a red flag. A remark, a rumor, a look. And if none of the women on his staff felt comfortable bringing this issue to his attention, what does that say about his management? If he were at all interested in the work environment he was fostering for his female employees, he would’ve talked to them. He would’ve pushed harder.

I’m not a Mavericks fan. These revelations weren’t the gut punch for me that they were for many of our writers and, I’m sure, for our readers. But as a woman who’s spent any time at all in an office, it was overwhelmingly frustrating and upsettingly familiar. I believe Cuban when he says he wants to fix this. But if he truly wants to change the culture he’s allowed to fester, he has to take responsibility for his own ignorance. Not knowing isn’t a whole lot better than knowing and refusing to act.