The Dallas Mavericks have launched an independent investigation after a report by Sports Illustrated on Tuesday alleged that the NBA franchise maintained a “corrosive workplace culture” where women were routinely sexually harassed by male co-workers.
The SI report focuses primarily on the conduct of former team President and CEO Terdema Ussery, who reportedly had a reputation as a “serial sexual harasser.” Two women told SI that Ussery harassed them for years, with incidents ranging from requests for sex to inappropriate touching during meetings. The story opens with a particularly horrific anecdote in which Ussery allegedly told a newly hired support staffer that she was going to “get gangbanged.”
Ussery, who left the team in 2015, denied the allegations, telling SI:
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.
But the SI report says that Ussery was part of a larger corporate culture that created a toxic stew of misogyny, sexual harassment and predatory sexual behavior. Even when women reported the harassment, they were either ignored or met with intimidating responses. Six female former employees of the Mavericks or the American Airlines Center (where the Mavs play) told SI that they left the sports sector altogether because of their experiences in the workplace there.
The Mavs released a statement before the release of the SI report that reads in part:
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.
Team owner Mark Cuban says that he is “embarrassed” about the accusations and vows to fix the problem; he told SI that the team has set up a counseling hotline for current and former employees and has ordered sensitivity training for the entire organization.
None of the Mavericks players were involved in any alleged misconduct. One female former senior staffer told the magazine: “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. Then I’d go to the office and it was this zoo, this complete shit show. My anxiety would go down dealing with players; it would go up when I got to my desk.”