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Mark Cuban’s 2011 comments to Portland police reveal a disturbing attitude

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The Mavericks owner wasn’t charged after police investigated a sexual assault accusation in 2011, but the comments coming from the organization still sting.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, a report from Portland alternative newspaper Willamette Week revealed that Portland police investigated a sexual assault accusation against Cuban in 2011.

We’ll likely never know what truly happened that night, and we certainly won’t debate that here. But regardless of Cuban’s guilt, his comments to the detective investigating the accusation were troubling, and they provide some context for questions about how Cuban allowed such a toxic workplace to fester in Mavericks business offices during his tenure.

During questioning in 2011, Cuban gave the following answers:

Cuban: Oh! Hell no! You don’t think a hundred people would’ve noticed?

McGuire: Entirely possible. But I suppose it’s entirely possible, depending on how crowded it was and how many people were around, that no one would notice…

Cuban: How would I get, I mean, she wouldn’t say something right there and then and smack the shit out of me? And while we’re…oh hell no. [laughs] Are you kidding me?

***

Cuban: I mean, how do I deal with something like this? If someone just makes an accusation like this?

McGuire: Um, well, pretty much my preference, of course, how to deal with it would be to talk to me just like you’re doing.

***

Cuban: So how do I deal with something like this? I mean, why would she wait a mon—I mean, why wouldn’t people, why wouldn’t she just react right there? You know? I mean, and, and have her boyfriend or whatever beat the shit out of me if I did something stupid like that. You know?

McGuire: I think there’s a possibility that just you and your situation can, could be intimidating to some folks.

Cuban’s words may seem at first pass like a straightforward denial, but for me they raise questions about his understanding of and empathy toward victims of sexual assault and the manner in which he handled (or failed to handle) accusations in his own business.

When Cuban expresses doubt that something like this could happen with a huge group of people around, I wonder whether the Mavericks perhaps didn’t take sexual abuse accusations at the workplace seriously because more people in the office didn’t come forward to corroborate the story. But people see bad things every day; not everyone speaks up. Their silence shouldn’t be taken as confirmation that nothing bad happened.

When he asks why the complainant didn’t react immediately or report the incident to police more quickly, he demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of sexual abuse victims. Coming forward with a sexual abuse allegation isn’t easy, and American workplace culture has frequently shunned women who do come forward. They often fear repercussion, including losing their jobs, their relationships, and even their life. That’s not to say a man has never been wrongly accused of sexual abuse, but coming forward is a difficult decision that women aren’t always encouraged to make.

Just days ago, Rick Carlisle provided an unintentional example of the kind of shame women who come forward risk suffering:

Here’s the full quote for context. “Very sad,” Carlisle said after practice. “And I view that situation as a baseless and journalistically unethical rehashing of a proven non-event. That’s what that is.

”Have you ever heard the term fake news? This is the most insidious form.”

The full quote makes it a little clearer that Carlisle’s comment is directed primarily at the media, but even with that context, that quote is a bad response. Because whatever your feeling about the story, it is not fake news. It reported facts, interviews and importantly, detailed that Cuban wasn’t charged and why. It’s understandable that Carlisle believes Cuban is innocent, but he could’ve said that in a more thoughtful way.

When you look at the Sports Illustrated story from a few weeks back, you can connect the dots between Cuban’s comments and how an organization can allow such a toxic culture to fester for two decades. When an organization has been exposed for rampant and gross ignorance and compliance with a terrible workplace environment for women, and it’s then discovered the leader of said organization was investigated for sexual assault, that’s a story. That’s relevant. It sheds some light on how the details reported in the initial SI story came to be. This wasn’t a story that dropped out of thin air. It came out because it provides context to a bigger story.

Even if Cuban never implicitly encouraged the toxic environment surrounding the Mavericks during his entire time with the team, it still happened and these stories — Cuban allowing a convicted domestic abuser to stay on his payroll even after a guilty plea and a second incident, Cuban being investigated for sexual assault — can unknowingly trickle down to the rest of the organization, whether Cuban wanted it to or not.

It’s not about whether Cuban is guilty. It’s about how his attitude could influence a diseased workplace. It’s not about a story coming out seven years later to smear a public figure. It’s about providing context to an important and upsetting sexual harassment story. Cuban has to do better — the women he works with, the women and girls that looked up to him as a role models, and the community he serves deserve better.