It would be nice if sports leagues were proactive on issues with workplace culture and harassment. Instead of waiting around for formal charges to be filed, public outrage to grow so loud that it can’t be ignored, or a Baxter Holmes bombshell, commissioners should follow up on every rumor of sexual harassment and definitely be ahead of the game when allegations surface like the ones coming out of Dallas.
Former Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson and the organization are in the middle of a wrongful termination lawsuit, and the claims are horrifying. Nelson alleges the team covered up a sexual assault of his adult nephew by Mark Cuban’s chief of staff Jason Lutin, and fired him after he complained about the incident to the team, according to ESPN’s Don Van Natta. Cuban and the Mavericks have strongly denied the allegations and have said that it’s part of an alleged $100 million extortion scheme by Nelson.
Nelson also alleges Cuban offered him $52 million to withdraw his illegal retaliation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and sign a confidentiality agreement regarding the alleged incident involving his nephew and Lutin. Each side continues to vehemently deny each other’s allegations.
Taking the word of a jilted ex-employee over that of a billionaire with a poor track record of running an inclusive and inviting workplace — or vice versa — is a terrible idea and one I’ll avoid. I’m only here to tell you that this is a serious matter, and the team is showing a pattern of inquiry-worthy behavior.
This is not the first report of issues with workplace behavior and sexual harassment in Dallas. If you remember, there was the Sports Illustrated story in 2018 that described the workplace as corrosive, citing sexual harassment and domestic abuse. It led to sanctions against the team and an apology by Cuban, but no suspensions or loss of draft picks.
In 2019, more than a year after SI’s initial story, another SI piece came out saying the team failed to properly look into claims by a woman (who is not a Mavs employee) that a team exec forced himself on her in a Las Vegas hotel room. Director of Player Personnel Tony Ronzone denied the accusation, and the Mavs stood behind him... until their own investigation uncovered additional information about the claims, and the team fired Ronzone. (Do you get points for retroactively doing your due diligence after getting called out for not doing it the first time? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.)
Following the 2018 story and the sanctions implemented by the NBA on Dallas afterward — including the requirement that the team “immediately report to the league office any instances or allegations of significant misconduct by any employee” — it makes you wonder who knew what and when. These are terribly concerning allegations, and we should be more worried about the young man who was allegedly sexually assaulted than about whether the team followed proper protocols.
That said, the sanctions (hopefully) were put in place to help prevent this kind of behavior from continuing, and if the team didn’t report Nelson’s complaint to the league, then even harsher hand holding techniques should be implemented. It’s also not outlandish to say the NBA should investigate the team again.
The league had independent investigators perform one after the 2018 story came out, but maybe it should be a yearly audit because this should’ve been brought to the league or came up in the sanction-stipulated progress reports the Mavs are required to submit to the league.
We haven’t heard from the NBA yet, so it’s possible the Mavs followed the proper procedures, and Adam Silver let the rest of us find out through the media. It’d be one thing if it was a squeaky clean team that doesn’t have a checkered past. It’s not, though, and if you listen close enough you can hear Robert Sarver yelling, “What about Mark Cuban?!?!” from whatever gated community he’s been confined to in Phoenix since Holmes dropped the aforementioned, alleged dime on him.
We know from the NFL’s “investigation” into the Washington Commanders that commissioners are going to protect the owners because that’s who signs their paychecks, and this is no different despite the public perception of Roger Goodell and the NFL. Silver can strongly influence how teams do business with sanctions and tough talk, but he’s not the benevolent autocrat fans wish he would be.
That’s probably a good thing, too, because the only person I’ve come across with an unquestionable sense of right and wrong was Steve Rogers and even he was not without questionable decisions. (You gotta tell Tony that Bucky assassinated his parents, my guy.)
The one thing that I would ask, though, is leagues be as vigilant, transparent, and thorough as possible whenever one hears the faintest whisper of misconduct. The NBA is absolutely aware of what’s going on in Dallas even if it hasn’t made a statement regarding the lawsuit, and I imagine that’s their policy regarding open litigation.
They definitely don’t want to bring attention to such a horrendous story this close to the playoffs, but they should. If Silver needs a statement, I have one he can use — just make sure to attribute it to Sean Beckwith, Deadspin.
“The NBA is aware of the ongoing lawsuit and the allegations surfacing out of Dallas. We can’t comment on the case specifically, but we will say this whole situation sucks, and we are not only monitoring it but also conducting our own independent investigation.”