Mark Cuban was not among the Mavericks executives accused of sexual harassment in a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED investigation. But as franchise owner—and a famously hands-on franchise owner—inevitably, he becomes part of this story. Multiple sources speculate that Cuban “must have known” about the Mavs’ organizational culture and prevalence of sexual harassment. Cuban adamantly denies that.
SI contacted the Mavericks and Cuban on Monday seeking comment. Within an hour, Cuban reached out via phone. He says that he had just fired Buddy Pittman, the Mavs longtime VP of Human Resources, and had already hired a “third party” to handle harassment complaints. Late Tuesday night, the team released a statement alluding to another team employee, Earl Sneed, also being terminated.
Cuban was outspoken and emotional in a discussion with SI, alternately remorseful for the lack of oversight and defiant that he had no prior knowledge of the situation.
On being given a list of various assertions made in the SI story:
Cuban: “I mean, this is all new to me. That’s what I can tell you. Um, I mean, the only awareness I have is just because I heard you guys were looking into some things. And I started doing some, asking some questions. Terdema [Ussery] was hired before I got here, and the assertions you made were news to me. I talked to our HR person and again after these came up. And I was told there had been no complaints since I bought the team or even prior to that. None. And based off of what I’ve read here, um, we just fired our HR person. I don’t have any tolerance for what I’ve read… I feel sick to my stomach.”
On Earl Sneed, the ex–Mavs.com writer, who plead guilty to assault after a domestic violence incident and then was involved allegedly in a similar act of violence against a female Mavs co-worker:
Cuban: “I didn’t know until I just looked into it again. Everything was handled by the Mavericks at that point, the CEO and HR. I had no reason to doubt their handling of anything because none of this was communicated to me…. I can’t even begin to tell you how bad it is to me…. What happened was he was arrested, he was convicted [Ed. Sneed was not convicted but plead to a misdemeanor assault charge] and then he was put through counseling. He was required to go through counseling, and I don’t know the term of the counseling. All of this, I’m hearing after the fact just recently having checked into it with Buddy Pittman [then the Mavs’ head of HR]. He was required to go to counseling. He was required to have an escort. That’s when I checked into this as a result. I mean, this was just in the past weeks. That’s what I was told.
[Having reviewed his records, Cuban called on SI on Tuesday to clarify that an email indicated that, in 2014, he had been made aware of Sneed’s alleged assault of a female co-worker. “I was aware of it. I also suggested that we put him through domestic violence training class and then create a zero tolerance policy that included a variety of things…I don’t want this to be incorrect. I don’t want you to think I misled you. We took this very seriously.”]
You’re known for your hands on approach and you’re known for knowing details, and you have an employee who requires an escort; and this is something you don’t know about?
Cuban: "Yeah, my involvement was on the basketball side. And the basketball and the business side were completely different. I mean, it’s just the truth of the matter is, I deferred to, I had a CEO and I let them do their job. I had a director of HR and I let them do their job. The minute I found out that this was handled incorrectly, I mean obviously "Terdema’s been gone, but I fired [Pittman] immediately. And we suspended Earl, you know, he’s not here. Once I find out if all of this is true, then we’ll have to address that."
We had a number of women basically say Mark knew. ‘He had to know.’ ‘He turned a blind eye as long as the revenue came in.’ The consensus among the women was basically there’s no way Mark didn’t know. What do you say to them?
Cuban: "That’s incorrect. That’s incorrect. Look, as long as the revenue came in. We lost money. Jon, you saw how we ran. I focused on basketball. I declare over and over and over again this is not about as long as the revenue came in. You know, that’s absolutely incorrect. I did not know. The only thing I ever heard in terms of Terdema was that he had an affair with somebody in the office early on in my tenure and I mean I didn’t think it was appropriate at that time to address somebody on their personal business. I had no inkling. Nobody said a word to be about anything related to harassment in any way shape or form… I mean, Jon, I know it might not sound realistic, but I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations of all my companies, right? There’s just…I eat, sleep, and breathe the basketball side, and I can tell you the salaries of every player on every team and what their analytics are. But I can’t do everything, and so yeah, I get, my whole thing was I get reports. And any bad news in the reports. And obviously none of that was included in anything I received or I would have done something like I did today.”
Anything else you want to add?
Cuban: "You guys have open access to talk to anybody you want to. We’re not going to hold anybody back. You guys do whatever you need to do. I guess on some level I’m thankful. This is not a situation where we’re trying to, this is brand new to me. Brand new, relative to when you started looking into it. Brand new to somebody’s assertions and questions you’ve asked. Brand new to me. It’s wrong. It’s abhorrent. It’s not a situation we condone. I mean, I literally, I can’t tell you how many times particularly since all [#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. I asked him again today. Have we done exit interviews like you refer to? Has anybody said anything? Are there any indications that maybe there was something out there and we didn’t pay enough attention to it? No, no, no, no, no, every time."
Did Cuban want to gather his thoughts and make a statement:
Cuban: “No, people know I’m not a statement guy, right? I want to deal with this this issue. I mean, this is, I 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.”
Hours later, Cuban later sent a follow-up email:
Cuban: “We will make third party counseling and support services available to any current and former Mavericks employees. We do not want to underestimate the pain of anyone who has been affected. As we discussed, we are bringing in experts in this field to help us make sure those who need help get what they need and to make sure this never happens again. Part of what they will offer is a hotline for counseling and support services, as well as personalized services and in depth training for all employees and related staff, including myself.”