By now, we’ve all had time to read the Sports Illustrated investigation into the toxic culture allowed to fester in the Mavs organization for nearly two decades. I’m still processing it, personally. It’s fitting that the article dropped in the middle of a heavy storm over downtown Dallas. My mind has been similarly stormy ever since.
According to the investigation, there has been a hostile work environment for women in the Mavericks organization since before Mark Cuban purchased the team. The primary focus of the SI piece was on rampant sexual harassment allegations against former CEO Terdema Ussery, who was with the team for 18 years. Less than a year into his tenure, multiple female employees made allegations of sexual misconduct. The Mavericks conducted a six-week investigation, but no action was taken against Ussery other than a revision of the employee handbook with a new sexual harassment policy. Ussery was the organization’s top executive on the business side, and the SI article paints a very clear picture of the culture of misogyny that was allowed to fester under his watch. Its authors, Jessica Luther and Jon Wertheim, cited more than a dozen sources.
Knowingly employing a violent domestic abuser is another piece of this culture. Earl Sneed was arrested at a team facility in 2012 for an incident of domestic abuse and pled guilty. But the Mavs didn’t fire him. There was at least one other incident two years later, and at that point, according to Sneed himself, the team signed him to a contract that specifically prohibited him from being alone with female employees. Mark Cuban has since admitted that failing to fully investigate the details of Sneed’s assault record was a huge mistake. He took full responsibility for failing to consider the impact Sneed’s continuing presence would have on the women forced to continue working with him.
I struggle to believe that, given everything exposed by the investigation and everything that has come out since, this could have been a surprise to anyone in a position of power with the Mavs. And I’m glad Cuban is taking responsibility, but that doesn’t void the years that the Mavs enabled this violence. Something this rampant, this well-known behind closed doors could only stay out of the public eye for two decades because the Mavericks organization made damn sure it was kept under wraps.
This is nothing short of betrayal.
The Dallas Mavericks betrayed the women they employed. For decades. Many of these women told Luther and Wertheim that they willingly left their jobs—some of them left the sports business entirely—because they were made to feel unsafe by the Dallas Mavericks. This is a toxic culture for women:
But the betrayal extends beyond the women who worked for the team. Many women who have worked in proximity to the Mavericks or the American Airlines Center over the last 20 years are now forced to reckon with the horror of this story. Some no doubt knew parts or all of it and have been suffering in silence. But others, including myself, are hearing about it for the first time.
I’ve covered the Mavericks with this site for several years now, and I can’t quite put into words the tremendous conflict I feel trying to resolve the enjoyment I experienced with the realization that the organization was so twisted the entire time.
On an even larger scale, the Dallas Mavericks have betrayed their fans and the broader Dallas community. I’ve been a fan since the early 2000s. I’ve loved Dirk Nowitzki what feels like my entire life. I’ve cheered and jeered, poured my heart into a team that I loved. The highs of 2011 and the lows of 2006 and 2007. While my love for other teams has come and gone, the Mavericks have been a constant. And now that all feels tainted. Wrong.
Misogyny, sexual harassment, and violence against women have no place in our community. These behaviors and attitudes are abhorrent. It shouldn’t be unreasonable for us to expect that a major employer in our city, a major cultural influence and source of entertainment, would, at minimum, avoid causing harm to the women it employed. This is so much worse than that. The behavior outlined in the SI article places the Mavericks organization squarely on the side of the harassers and abusers, not their victims. They owe Dallas so much more.
I don’t know where the Mavericks go from here. The organization has already begun to make changes, but no matter what they do, it’s far too late. Twenty years too late. I don’t know if I can continue supporting the team, given what I know now. I’m sure more dominoes will fall. What I do know is that the Mavericks are not who I thought they were. Shame on them.