#MeToo Hits Dallas Mavericks in Bombshell New Report: It Was a Real-Life 'Animal House'
A bombshell new Sports Illustrated story published Tuesday is bringing the #MeToo movement to the world of professional basketball. The lengthy piece outlines a culture of sexual harassment inside the Mark Cuban–owned Dallas Mavericks organization, which is described by one woman as a "real-life Animal House."
A number of the accusations are focused on the team's former president, Terdema Ussery, who is said to have been widely known as a serial sexual harasser. (Ussery left the Mavericks in 2015.) One woman recounted an incident during the 2010–11 season, when Ussery asked to join her as she ate dinner in the media dining room. She says he told her he knew what she was going to be doing that upcoming weekend: "You're going to get gang-banged, aren't you?" The woman replied that in fact she was going to the movies with friends and then he repeated the "gang-bang" comment. She told SI that while shocked she was not surprised because she had been warned about Ussery. "Watch out for the president,” one woman said. “Whatever you do, don’t get trapped in an elevator with him.” Another woman says he propositioned her for sex
SI interviewed more than a dozen current and former employees in the organization and found that Ussery was not the only problem. Their investigations "paint a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior: alleged public fondling by the team president; outright domestic assault by a high-profile member of the mavs.com staff; unsupportive or even intimidating responses from superiors who heard complaints of inappropriate behavior from their employees; even an employee who openly watched pornography at his desk. Most sources did not want their names used for a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation and ostracism and limits imposed by agreements they signed with the team."
One woman says the behavior did not apply to the actual players on the team, however. "I dealt with players all the time," she told the magazine. "I had hundreds of interactions with players and never once had an issue…they always knew how to treat people. Then I'd go to the office and it was this zoo, this complete sh*t show."
More than half a dozen women said they actually left the sports sector due to this type of environment. “You don’t feel safe going to work, and it’s not long before you look for another job,” says one of those women, now employed in a different sector. “And then you wonder why there aren’t more women working in sports. Really?”
Ussery said in a statement to SI: “I am deeply disappointed that anonymous sources have made such outright false and inflammatory accusations against me. During my career with the Mavericks, I have strived to conduct myself with character, integrity, and empathy for others. During my nearly 20-year tenure with the Mavericks, I am not aware of any sexual harassment complaints about me or any findings by the organization that I engaged in inappropriate conduct. In fact, on multiple occasions I and other senior executives at the organization raised concerns—both in person and in emails—about other Mavericks employees who had engaged in highly inappropriate—and in some cases, threatening—sexual conduct. The organization refused to address these concerns, and I believe these misleading claims about me are part of an attempt to shift blame for the failure to remove employees who created an uncomfortable and hostile work environment within the Mavericks organization.”
The Mavericks also happen to have one of the most outspoken and involved team owners in the NBA: Mark Cuban. With so many women claiming a failure on the part of HR and the organization as a whole, what he knew or did not know has become a big question. “Trust me, Mark knows everything that goes on,” one longtime former Mavericks employee said. “Of course Mark knew [about the instances of harassment and assault]. Everyone knew.” Cuban was contacted by SI about the story on Monday and said, "This is all new to me. The only awareness I have is because I heard you guys were looking into some things…. Based off of what I’ve read here, we just fired our HR person. I don’t have any tolerance for what I’ve read.” He continued, "It’s wrong. It’s abhorrent. It’s not a situation we condone. I can’t tell you how many times, particularly since all this [#MeToo] stuff has been coming out recently, I asked our HR director, ‘Do we have a problem? Do we have any issues I have to be aware of?’ And the answer was no.”
As for moving forward, he says, "I want to deal with this issue. I mean, this is…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.”
The team also released a statement in which they say that they take the allegations seriously and have obtained outside counsel to conduct an investigation. "There is no room for such conduct in the Mavericks’ workplace—or any workplace…. We are committed—to our employees, our team, and our fans—to meet the goals of dignity, security, and fairness that define the Dallas Mavericks." The NBA says that it will be closely monitoring the investigation.