The Dallas Mavericks have hired outside counsel to investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct by former team president Terdema Ussery in a Sports Illustrated report that described a hostile workplace for women.
Sports Illustrated spoke to sources who said Ussery had several incidents of inappropriate workplace behavior, including unwanted touching and lewd sexual comments. He spent 18 years with the team before going to the sports apparel company Under Armour in 2015.
Ussery, who was investigated by the team over similar claims in 1998, denied the allegations in a statement to SI.
The Mavericks released a statement ahead of the publication of the Sports Illustrated report, saying the team "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," owner Mark Cuban said in the team's statement.
NBC 5 Sports Director Newy Scruggs spoke to a former Mavericks employee who said she had several unpleasant encounters with Ussery. She added Cuban's comments about not knowing what was going on are false.
The report said team website reporter Earl Sneed was twice accused of domestic assault while working for the Mavericks, including a guilty plea in a case that was dismissed when he met the conditions of the agreement.
The team said Sneed had been fired, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told SI that he fired human resources director Buddy Pittman after learning details of the magazine's report. Pittman and Sneed declined to comment to SI.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed in court, Sneed got into an argument about headphones with the woman with whom he lived in 2011. The woman told police he grabbed the woman by her wrists, slammed her against a wall, sat on her and slapped her in the face and chest. She told officers he said, "I'm going to f-----g kick your a--. Today is gonna be the worst day of your life."
Police wrote the woman suffered a fractured wrist and bruises.
The woman told NBC 5 on Wednesday it was gut-wrenching to read the account again after seven years, but said she was glad people knew. She also told NBC 5 she emailed the Mavericks organization to warn them Sneed abused her and had a warrant out for his arrest in 2011.
Sports Illustrated reported Sneed later dated another woman in the organization who reportedly told HR about Sneed hitting her.
Sneed remained with the organization until Tuesday night after the Sports Illustrated article was published.
Tuesday night Sneed tweeted to thank the Mavericks and MFFL (Mavs Fans For Life), saying, "Not sure what God has in store for me next, but thank you to the Dallas Mavericks and every MFFL for seven amazing full-time years. It was the best time, but all good things must come to an end. Be blessed."
The report also said the Mavericks' VP of Marketing at the time of the allegations involving Ussery, Paul Monroe, threatened to fire one woman who complained about Ussery. She told SI that Monroe told her to "just take" the abuse from Ussery.
Ussery, who left the team in 2015, still owns a home in Dallas. NBC 5 was unable to reach him for direct comment on Wednesday.
Pittman's wife answered the door at his home and told a reporter her husband is an "honorable man" and that she believes the truth would eventually come out. She took a message for her husband, but Pittman didn't call for comment.
Monroe now works for another North Texas organization. Voice messages left for Monroe at his office and on a family member's mobile phone were not returned Wednesday.
The NBA said the Mavericks had informed the league of the allegations involving Ussery and Sneed.
"This alleged conduct runs counter to the steadfast commitment of the NBA and its teams to foster safe, respectful and welcoming workplaces for all employees," the league said. "Such behavior is completely unacceptable and we will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter."
The Mavericks said Wednesday they hired Evan Krutoy and Anne Milgrim to lead the independent investigation. Krutoy served as a prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney's office for over 20 years and served as Acting Deputy Bureau Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit. Milgrim is a professor at New York University School of Law, and a former former New Jersey attorney general.
SI contacted six female former Mavericks or American Airlines Center employees who claimed they left the sports sector because of a structure that left them feeling vulnerable and devalued while protecting powerful men who misbehaved. A male former department head said there was "built-in protection for a lot of men."
A woman who had recently been hired as a support staffer said Ussery made sexually suggestive remarks to her in the media dining room before a game during the 2010-11 season, when the Mavericks won their only NBA championship. The woman said she had been told by others to be wary of Ussery.
"Obviously there's a problem in the Mavericks organization and we've got to fix it," Cuban told the magazine. "I'm embarrassed, to be honest with you, that it happened under my ownership, and it needs to be fixed."
Two women claimed the Ussery harassed them for years, incidents that ranged from inappropriate remarks to requests for sex to touching women's calves and thighs during meetings.
Ussery had left Nike to join the Mavericks and had previously served as commissioner of the old Continental Basketball Association. He was praised by former NBA Commissioner David Stern and served as the Mavericks' alternate governor with the league.
"I am deeply disappointed that anonymous sources have made such outright false and inflammatory accusations against me," Ussery told The Associated Press. "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."
Ussery said he had raised concerns about other Mavericks employees who he said engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct and the organization didn't address those concerns.
"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," Ussery said.
Cuban said in the statement that the organization will provide support for current and former Mavericks employees who were affected and will conduct training to ensure a safe workplace.
"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," Cuban said.