The Dallas Mavericks have hired outside counsel to investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct by former team president Terdema Ussery in a Sports Illustrated report that described a hostile workplace for women.
Ussery was accused of making sexually suggestive remarks to several women. He spent 18 years with the team before going to the sports apparel company Under Armour in 2015. Ussery, who was investigated by the team over similar claims in 1998, denied the allegations in a statement to SI.
The report said team website reporter Earl Sneed was twice accused of domestic assault while working for the Mavericks, including a guilty plea in a case that was dismissed when he met the conditions of the agreement.
The team said Sneed had been fired, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told SI that he fired human resources director Buddy Pittman after learning details of the magazine's report. Pittman and Sneed declined to comment to SI.
The NBA said the Mavericks had informed the league of the allegations involving Ussery and Sneed. On Tuesday night, the NBA issued the following statement regarding the Sports Illustrated report:
The following statement has been issued by Mike Bass, NBA Executive Vice President, Communications, regarding the Sports Illustrated story about the Dallas Mavericks organization:
“The Dallas Mavericks have informed us of the allegations involving former team president Terdema Ussery and Mavs.com writer Earl Sneed. This alleged conduct runs counter to the steadfast commitment of the NBA and its teams to foster safe, respectful and welcoming workplaces for all employees. Such behavior is completely unacceptable and we will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter."
Additionally, the Mavericks issued their official statement on the matter as well:
The Dallas Mavericks have received information about behavior in our workplace that appears to have violated the organization’s standards of conduct. It has been alleged that a former officer of the organization engaged in various acts of inappropriate conduct toward women over a period of years. This individual left the employment of the Mavericks nearly three years ago and the Mavericks have only learned of the scope of these complaints in the past days.
The Mavericks organization takes these allegations extremely seriously. Yesterday we notified the league office and immediately hired outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. The investigation will focus on the specific allegations related to this former employee, and will look more broadly at our company’s workplace practices and policies. In addition, an employee whose job was to receive and investigate such complaints and report them accurately and fully, has been suspended pending the conclusion of our investigation.
In a separate matter, we have also learned that an employee misled the organization about a prior domestic violence incident. This employee was not candid about the situation and has been terminated.
There is no room for such conduct in the Mavericks’ workplace—or any workplace.
The Mavericks will provide all necessary resources to ensure that every current and former employee receives appropriate support. We will also conduct comprehensive training through experts and take the necessary steps to ensure that our workplace is a safe, respectful and productive one for all Dallas Mavericks employees. 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.
We will not make any further comments until after the completion of the investigation.
SI contacted six female former Mavericks or American Airlines Center employees who claimed they left the sports sector because of a structure that left them feeling vulnerable and devalued while protecting powerful men who misbehaved. A male former department head said there was "built-in protection for a lot of men."
A woman who had recently been hired as a support staffer said Ussery made sexually suggestive remarks to her in the media dining room before a game during the 2010-11 season, when the Mavericks won their only NBA championship. The woman said she had been told by others to be wary of Ussery.
"Obviously there's a problem in the Mavericks organization and we've got to fix it," Cuban told the magazine. "I'm embarrassed, to be honest with you, that it happened under my ownership, and it needs to be fixed."
Two women claimed the Ussery harassed them for years, incidents that ranged from inappropriate remarks to requests for sex to touching women's calves and thighs during meetings.
Ussery had left Nike to join the Mavericks and had previously served as commissioner of the old Continental Basketball Association. He was praised by former NBA Commissioner David Stern and served as the Mavericks' alternate governor with the league.
"I am deeply disappointed that anonymous sources have made such outright false and inflammatory accusations against me," Ussery said. "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."
Ussery said he had raised concerns about other Mavericks employees who he said engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct and the organization didn't address those concerns.
"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," Ussery said
Cuban told the magazine that the team was establishing a hotline for counseling and support services for past and current employees. He is mandating sensitivity training for all employees, himself included.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.