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Troubled Dallas Mavericks: Allegations of 'Animal House' culture inside the organization

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban denied knowing about the hostile corporate culture inside the Mavericks' organization that's been alleged by former and current employees. The Sports Illustrated story cited former president and CEO, Terdema Ussery, who left the Mavericks in 2015. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

More than a dozen female employees and ex-employees have leveled allegations ranging from sexual harassment to domestic violence inside the Dallas Mavericks' corporate environment, according to a Sports Illustrated exposé published Tuesday.

The women have characterized the NBA team's culture as hostile.

“It was a real life 'Animal House,'” said a former employee, who recently left after about five years with the organization, Sports Illustrated reported. “And I only say ‘was’ because I’m not there anymore. I’m sure it’s still going on.”

Accusers said the "locker room culture" occurred only in the corporate environment and was never part of the players'  locker room.

“I dealt with players all the time. I had hundreds of interactions with players and never once had an issue … they always knew how to treat people," a former female senior staffer, who was not identified, told the publication. "Then I'd go to the office and it was this zoo, this complete s**tshow. My anxiety would go down dealing with players; it would go up when I got to my desk.”

Some of the women interviewed said they left sports altogether because of the environment that seemed to have built-in protections for many of the men.

“You don’t feel safe going to work and it’s not long before you look for another job,” one woman said. “And then you wonder why there aren’t more women working in sports. Really?”

What's the story?

The team's former president and CEO, Terdema Ussery, who left the Mavericks in 2015, allegedly exhibited predatory behavior and propositioned female employees for sex.

The accusations go as far back as 1998, a year after he joined the Mavericks as CEO.

Ussery, a Princeton graduate who earned his master's degree from Harvard and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, was only 32 when the Continental Basketball Association tapped him as its commissioner. The CBA served as a professional men's basketball minor league until it ended in 2009.

In 1993, Nike Sports Management named him as president of the organization. He left Nike in 1997 to join the Mavericks.

A year after joining the Mavericks, female employees made complaints against Ussery for inappropriate behavior, and the team launched an internal investigation. Ussery was not let go, but the Mavericks hired Buddy Pittman as the head of human resources, and he created new policies regarding sexual harassment.

Following the investigation, Ussery avoided questions from the media.

"It's been addressed. I really don't want to elaborate any further," Ussery would respond. "What we’re focused on is building a great organization. That was and is our focus.”

And his behavior continued, according to the women Sports Illustrated interviewed.

Ussery eventually left the Mavericks for another high-profile position as the president of global sports for Under Armour. He abruptly resigned the company two months later in what was touted as an "organizational reshuffle."

A source told Sports Illustrated that a female employee had filed an HR complaint against him at Under Armour for alleged sexually inappropriate behavior shortly before his departure.

The employees interviewed by Sports Illustrated allege that Pittman was part of the problem and that his social and religious views made it difficult to approach him with workplace problems.

What about the domestic violence accusations?

Police arrested Earl K. Sneed, the team's beat writer since 2010, at the Mavericks facility for assaulting his girlfriend about halfway through the 2010-11 season.

Sneed “sat on top of her and slapped her on the face and chest,” and at one point he told the woman, “I’m going to f***ing kick your ass. Today is gonna be the worst day of your life,” according to a Dallas police report. He “fled before the reporting officer arrived,” the magazine reported.

Sneed allegedly fractured her right wrist, and she suffered bruises on her arms and chest, the report said.

He pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges in 2012 but also continued to work for the team.

Later, Sneed started dating a Mavericks colleague, and in 2014, the couple had an argument that turned reportedly violent.

She reported the incident to Pittman, but his employment continued. The woman resigned and moved to another state after deciding the Mavericks' environment wasn't safe.

What did Mark Cuban say?

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who's notorious for being a hands-on owner, told Sports Illustrated he recently fired Pittman and Sneed.

Cuban, who purchased the team in 2000, has denied knowing about the "hostile" culture that has been painted by current and former employees.

Several sources told Sports Illustrated that while Cuban was never a guilty of sexual harassment himself, they are sure he was aware of what was going on within the organization.

“Trust me, Mark knows everything that goes on,” a longtime former Mavericks employee said. “Of course, Mark knew [about the instances of harassment and assault]. Everyone knew.”

The Mavericks issued the following statement:

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.

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