Mavericks Tried to Move the Ball Forward With Sex-Scandal Response

Thom Weidlich 01.10.19


Bloomberg Businessweek recently ran an article on the Dallas Mavericks basketball team’s sex-harassment scandal last year. The piece highlighted an essential element of crisis response: action. You have to show your constituencies you’re doing something to respond to the crisis.

The Mavericks’ situation began in February when Sports Illustrated published a story alleging the team’s corporate office had a culture that ignored sex harassment.

The Mavs got in front of that, putting out a statement before the piece was published on Feb. 20. It said such behavior violated its policies, that it only learned of the behavior in the previous few days, and that the main person accused had left the company three years before.

Whether Cuban’s motives were cynical or not, the optics of a very public white male billionaire asking a woman of color to clean up his mess aren’t great.

— Bloomberg Businessweek

It said it would increase its training. Most importantly, it hired outside counsel to conduct an investigation into both the individual and its wider culture. The Mavericks also said it fired another employee involved in a domestic-violence incident he hadn’t disclosed.

One negative: The team’s statement didn’t name either employee. The first was former CEO Terdema Ussery — hardly a minor “player.” The team had investigated allegations against Ussery as far back as 1998, according to Sports Illustrated.


Less than a week after the Sports Illustrated story appeared, the Mavs announced it hired a new CEO, Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, who had been chief diversity officer at AT&T.

The Dec. 20 Bloomberg Businessweek article was a (sort of) profile of Marshall. It noted that some people were skeptical about hiring an African-American woman for the job. “Whether [owner Mark] Cuban’s motives were cynical or not, the optics of a very public white male billionaire asking a woman of color to clean up his mess aren’t great,” the magazine wrote.

On May 3, Marshall gave an update on her “100-day plan” to improve the team’s culture, and on July 12 the team announced it was establishing an advisory council for its diversity and inclusion efforts. The council is co-chaired by Dallas ex-Chief of Police David Brown and includes a wide variety of community leaders. A Mavericks fan named Meegan Trotter is also on it — because she wrote to Cuban (pictured) complaining about the team’s reputational crisis. Nice move.

Marshall brought in counselors for employees, opened a hotline for reporting incidents, and hired new employees, including a new compliance officer. Add this to the other things — hiring Marshall in the first place, creating the 100-day plan, launching the independent investigation, and establishing the advisory board — and all this shows a lot of action.

Do such maneuvers — especially the advisory board — meet with distrust from some quarters? Sure. But, as the Bible says, the critics you will always have with you. When confronted with a crisis, you have to show you’re doing something.

Bombshell Report

The lawyers the Mavs hired for the probe put out their report in September. It was a bombshell, with tales of harassment winked at by management. No company relishes a report whose table of contents includes the entry “The Condom Incident.”

The document’s 13 recommendations were fairly typical for such things (better incident-reporting procedures, better training), though one suggestion was focused heavily on Cuban, who was accused with Ussery of protecting and even encouraging perpetrators (Cuban himself was not accused of harassing anyone).

Bloomberg says that the recommendations overlapped with Marshall’s 100-day plan and that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told his board of governors all teams should follow the suggestions.

That shows the Mavericks are moving the ball forward toward making a difference.

Photo Credit: s_bukley/Shutterstock

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