We have now had over 36 hours to digest Sports Illustrated’s bombshell investigative story about the “corrosive culture” of the Dallas Mavericks organization, and it is frankly insufficient that the franchise — and not the NBA — is conducting the independent investigation of what went wrong.
Last night, USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt and Michael Singer noted the details of the investigation:
The Mavs have hired an independent law firm, New York-based Krutoy Law, which is headed by Evan Krutoy. He was a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than 22 years and handled high-profile rape and murder cases. He also was the acting deputy bureau chief of the sex crimes unit, according to his website. Lowenstein Sandler lawyer Anne Milgram, a former attorney general of New Jersey, will work in conjunction with the Kutroy law firm.
The NBA, which will have access to all the findings, announced Tuesday night that it will “closely monitor” the Mavs’ independent investigation, and hasn’t announced differently as of press time. We have reached out to the NBA for comment on this matter and will update if we hear back.
For all we know, these law firms and attorneys could be as virtuous as Gandhi. Even if that’s the case, it would still not cease to be bad optics that the Mavs and not the NBA are leading the investigation. It is imperative to get to the root of what Mark Cuban knew, and the public would have a lot more faith in the investigation’s ultimate findings if he were not the one commissioning it.
Former longtime Mavs CEO Terdema Ussery was accused in the SI piece of habitual sexual harassment. The Mavs conducted an investigation into it before Cuban bought the team and it was covered by the local press, but it persisted throughout Ussery’s 18-year tenure. Complaints to HR were reportedly disregarded. Ussery left the Mavs for an executive position with Under Armour in 2015 and lasted less than two months there. He left the company after he was accused of “behav[ing] in a sexually inappropriate manner” in an elevator with a female colleague he vastly outranked, something at least one woman in the Mavs organization was warned about by a friend. Ussery denied the allegations to SI.
Cuban was not accused of personal wrongdoing. He expressed horror when confronted with these allegations but denied knowledge of them. He has built up the equity in his public life that it would be rash to wrest his team away from him even temporarily until the matter is investigated. Nevertheless, it’s profoundly difficult to believe that the most overtly hands-on owner in American professional sports, who has openly bragged about how you can’t bullshit him because he’s “so close” to everything that is going on, knew nothing about all this.
Cuban acknowledged that he was aware of the multiple domestic violence offenses that Mavs in-house beat writer Earl K. Sneed was accused of, telling ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (please read the whole piece for full context) that “I made the decision, it was my decision and again, in hindsight, I would probably do it differently. I made the decision that we would make him go to domestic abuse counseling as a requirement to continued employment, that he was not allowed to be alone without a chaperone in the presence of any other women in the organization or any other women in a business setting at all, and he was not allowed to date anybody [who works for the Mavericks]. From that point on — and the investigators are going to see if we missed anything else — he appeared to abide by all those rules, as far as I knew.”
Again, while Cuban deserves the benefit of the doubt pending the findings of a full investigation, what he knew about Ussery is a primary subject of it. The Jerry Richardson circumstances with the Panthers were entirely different because he was directly accused of wrongdoing, but the NFL took over the investigation, rightfully aware of the fact that nobody would take its results seriously if it were “independently” commissioned by the Panthers.
Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post wrote a column last week that the NBA must move its Vegas Summer League away from the Wynn casino after a long line of women made sexual misconduct allegations about their work environment and now-former CEO Steve Wynn (which he has denied). All of Bontemps’ arguments apply here — the NBA and Adam Silver have positioned themselves as progressive thought leaders, “lauded for [their] openness, [their] willingness to embrace social change, for valuing diversity, equal rights and inclusion.”
Investigating the Mavs could be a big can of worms to open given that Lord knows how many other organizations could be the subject of similar stories and investigations down the road. But, it would be out of character for the NBA not to conduct these independent proceedings independently of Mark Cuban and the Mavs, and take swift action including suspension or even forced removal from the ownership ranks if findings were especially dastardly. In any event, this does not feel like a story that will just blow over.