Villanova Sports Law Blog
Adam Silver Fails #MeToo in Mark Cuban Punishment
Updated: Oct 17, 2018
By Jack O'Connor:
Few things are capable of transcending every large market and industry from Washington, D.C. to Hollywood quite like the #MeToo has over the past year. This phenomenon has unearthed shocking and painful details about what goes on behind the scenes for many women. These indiscretions often come at the hands of those with the most power, and the perpetrators rarely face consequences. The sports world has not been immune. Unfortunately for the NBA, the league faced its first #MeToo crisis after a Sports Illustrated investigation was published in February, 2018. And unfortunately for the victims and women across the country longing for some tangible results of the movement, Adam Silver and the NBA’s response fell flat.
Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther published a report that exposed egregious behavior by many high-ranking employees within the business side of the Dallas Mavericks organization. Many of these allegations were against Terdema Ussery, the team’s former president and CEO. Multiple current and former female Mavericks employees shared detailed accounts of Ussery asking them explicit questions, propositioning them sex, and publicly fondling them .
Internal accusations against Ussery came to a head in the summer of 1998 in which an investigation was launched by the team . Ussery faced no repercussions from this investigation but the team implemented a new sexual harassment policy and hired Buddy Pittman to be the new head of human resources. To the dismay of many employees, they felt this hire was intended to protect Ussery further rather than to hold him accountable. Pittman was given a cubicle within earshot of Ussery’s office where complaints had to be made, and those who spoke to Sports Illustrated said Pittman was generally intimidating and unhelpful .
Mark Cuban, the famous businessman and entrepreneur, purchased the Mavericks in 2000. Ussery’s behavior did not change after the 1998 investigation nor did it change after Cuban’s purchase in 2000. In 2009, Cuban hired Earl Sneed to work on Mavs.com. Two years, later Sneed pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge for beating a woman. Sneed’s position within the organization remained unchanged . In 2014, Sneed began dating a fellow employee with the Mavericks. The two had a confrontation in which Sneed hit her . She came to work with a swollen and bruised face and reported the incident. Mark Cuban was notified of this incident, and suggested, and the HR department accepted, that Sneed take a domestic violence training class . Again, Sneed remained with the team.
Shortly after this report was published by Sports Illustrated, the NBA launched an investigation. The results were released this past September in a shocking report that detailed even more instances of inappropriate sexual and misogynistic behavior at every level in the Mavericks’ business offices. Article 24 of the NBA constitution permits the commissioner to levy $2.5 million fine, suspend the owner, and force a forfeiture of draft picks for incidents not directly addressed elsewhere in the constitution . Commissioner Adam Silver went above and beyond this Article when racist comments made by then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s surfaced in 2014. However, Silver cowered to Cuban after an NBA investigation uncovered harassment, abuse, and an overall toxic culture running rampant through the offices of the Mavericks’ franchise. Silver announced that Cuban and the Mavs would be facing a $2.5 million fine with Cuban, himself, donating $10 million towards organizations that work on domestic violence, workplace discrimination, and women in sports . Cuban received no ban, no suspension, and no forfeiture of draft picks or any other basketball related sanction .
Mark Cuban is known primarily for two things: his massive wealth, and his expertise as a businessman that many consult for creating a strong company with a successful culture. That is why this punishment rings particularly hollow. Cuban adamantly maintains his ignorance to the details and extent of the issues in the business office but that seems to go against everything he stands for in business. Not to mention, is willing ignorance and continued omission a valid defense or a confession of enabling? Silver believes the former. Levying a strictly monetary punishment is particularly difficult to do to a man that is worth $3.7 billion. It is hard to imagine it hurt Cuban’s bottom line. Silver acknowledged as much recently saying, “$10 million is a lot of money and I accept I can’t sit here and say how that is going to change Mark Cuban’s life, but I know I deal with lots of wealthy people, $10 million is still a lot of money” .
The NBA is one of the fastest growing leagues in the United States. Its reach expands across the globe as basketball becomes more popular in more countries. It also has come to mean more to fans as they see their favorite players stand up for what they believe through activism on and off the court. Nevertheless, it is devastating to see this story mostly vanish from the headlines after only brief coverage, and the NBA sweep in under the rug with a fine to one of the league most well-known and wealthiest owners. The NBA had a chance to take stand for women and influence a movement, but it instead went the way of many others dealing with sexual assault. Synonymous with the #MeToo movement is the under-whelming responses to the #MeToo movement. When details emerged regarding the culture within the offices of the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA had a chance to send a message about such a timely and relevant topic as the #MeToo movement. The NBA, and Commissioner Adam Silver had an opportunity to be a shining example for a society working towards zero-tolerance. They inarguably failed. They failed like other industries have failed time and time again.
 Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther, Exclusive: Inside the Corrosive Workplace Culture of the Dallas Mavericks, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 20, 2018), https://www.si.com/nba/2018/02/20/dallas-mavericks-sexual-misconduct-investigation-mark-cuban-response
 Jon Wertheim, “It’s Not Something We Tolerate”: Mark Cuban Responds to SI’s Investigation, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 20, 2018), https://www.si.com/nba/2018/02/20/mark-cuban-mavericks-response-dallas-mavericks-statement-sexual-misconduct
 Michael McCann, How Will the NBA Respond to the Mavericks’ Misconduct Allegations?, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 20, 2018), https://www.si.com/nba/2018/02/20/dallas-mavericks-sexual-misconduct-investigation-mark-cuban-adam-silver
 ESPN News Services, NBA: Mark Cuban didn’t pay enough attention to Mavericks’ business culture, ESPN (Sep. 21, 2018), http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/24732020/dallas-mavericks-owner-mark-cuban-not-face-penalty-allegations-harassment-violence-organization
 Jeff Zillgitt, Three reasons the NBA didn’t suspend Mavs owner Mark Cuban, USA Today, (Sept. 21, 2018), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2018/09/21/mark-cuban-adam-silver-penalty-not-supsended/1385039002/