Last night, Sports Illustrated dropped a detailed account of internal sexual harassment and physical abuse complaints reported against a number of Dallas Mavericks male executives and employees, including former team president and CEO Terdema Ussery. After the team failed to soften the backlash with a preemptive statement, team owner Mark Cuban spoke with ESPN on Wednesday to offer his thoughts and an explanation for the harassment culture found in his organization.
Cuban’s remarks were largely contained to the company’s botched handling of two separate physical assaults by former Mavs.com writer Earl Sneed. Sneed was arrested and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of family violence assault and interference with emergency request in 2010; four years later, he struck a female co-worker he was dating and living with. Both times, the team was aware of the reports and still allowed him to keep his job—in the second instance of assault, the Mavericks actually had him sign a team-drafted agreement that prohibited any future “one-on-one contact” or dating of female Mavericks employees.
In speaking with ESPN at length on the Sneed report (he declined comment on the Ussery allegations), the Mavericks owner said he regretted employing Sneed after the incidents and claimed nobody on staff read the 2010 police report.
“I want to be clear, I’m not putting the blame on anybody else,” Cuban told ESPN. “It came down to my final decision that I made.”
“It was bad, but we made a mistake about the whole thing and didn’t pursue what happened with the police after the fact,” Cuban told ESPN. “So we got it mostly from Earl’s perspective, and because we didn’t dig in with the details — and obviously it was a horrible mistake in hindsight — we kind of, I don’t want to say took his word for it, but we didn’t see all the gruesome details until just recently. I didn’t read the police report on that until just [Tuesday], and that was a huge mistake obviously.”
“So that was my decision. What I missed, and it was truly a fuck up on my part, because I was not there [at the Mavericks’ office], I looked at everything anecdotally. My real fuck up was I didn’t recognize the impact it would have on all the other employees. I looked at this as a one-off situation where, OK, if I don’t do anything, this person could go out there and do damage on another women another time. Or do I say, can we get him counseling to try to prevent that from happening again? I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
“What I missed, again, is I didn’t realize the impact that it would have on the workplace and on the women that worked here and how it sent a message to them that, if it was OK for Earl to do that, who knows what else is OK in the workplace? I missed that completely. I missed it completely.”
Cuban also claimed he did not fire Sneed because he felt that by keeping him on the books and requiring counseling, he was preventing Sneed from being hired by another team site and repeating his actions—a thought that completely dismisses the very basic idea of simply calling and informing whoever hired Sneed of his abuse history, which given the fact he assaulted another Mavs employee, seems not only the humane and decent thing to do but the legally sound thing to do. Cuban and the Mavericks did not take that course, though; they instead gave Sneed two chances and then had him sign a contract so that he would be financially incentivized not to hit his co-workers or significant others anymore. Cuban said investigators are completing an investigation to check, but that after the second time he struck a woman and faced the team’s light tap on the wrist, Sneed “appeared to abide by all those rules, as far as I knew.”
That then brings up the question of what, exactly, Cuban knew. Recognized publicly as one of the most hands-on owners in sports, Cuban “insisted he had no knowledge of the corrosive culture in his offices,” when presented with the report by SI on Monday. On Tuesday, after SI showed him what they had on Monday, Cuban canned human resources director Buddy Pittman and suspended and later fired Sneed. He stayed true to this line on Wednesday, telling ESPN he rarely went over to the team business office and that, “because I was not there [at the Mavericks’ office], I looked at everything anecdotally.”
Cuban and the Mavericks are now waiting on the results of an investigation into the reports involving Ussery by a New York law firm before they comment on that section of the report. Again, both the Mavericks in a statement on Tuesday and Cuban in multiple interview with SI and ESPN have claimed they were not aware of any of Ussery’s sexually aggressive history against female co-workers—this, from a man who so meticulously runs his team that he’s personally yanked the credentials of a pair of ESPN.com writers for negative coverage and internally threatened to axe the person in charge of replays because he didn’t feel they were up to snuff.