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'Sports Illustrated' Investigates 'Corrosive' Workplace Of Dallas Mavericks

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The #MeToo movement has exposed high-profile cases of sexual harassment in entertainment, media, the hospitality sector and now sports. An investigation out this week alleges multiple instances of sexual harassment by the former president of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and, as well, an organization-wide culture of predatory sexual behavior. Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther reported this for Sports Illustrated, and Jon Wertheim joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

JON WERTHEIM: Anytime. Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with the allegations against the former president of the team, Terdema Ussery. What did you find?

WERTHEIM: This was the CEO, a president. He was first investigated for sexual improprieties in the workplace in 1998. That was an internal investigation. It went away. He did not. And apparently his behavior did not change much either because we had multiple women alleging that over the years he had them harassed and everything, from propositioning them to unwanted physical contact. And as you say, I think as his title is relevant. I mean, this sets the tone for the culture.

This is someone who is employing the HR representatives to whom employees are supposed to take their grievances. He was not the - you know, he was not the only offender here. This was a workplace story. This was an entire culture. There were other - certainly other employees, other colleagues of his that were, you know, quote, unquote, "worse." But it was relevant that the CEO was one of the central figures here.

MARTIN: Any sense that these allegations were the reason that he left?

WERTHEIM: You know, we asked the Mavericks that and they said no. However, after leaving the Mavericks, Ussery started at Under Armour, the footwear-apparel company. He lasted there less than two months because there was a sexual harassment allegation there we were told. So it was not why he left the Mavericks apparently, but it was why he left his next job after a matter of weeks.

MARTIN: You say this was a workplace - a cultural problem across the workplace, across the organization. Did it extend to the players themselves?

WERTHEIM: Well, that was the irony - not at all. And we had source after source say - we talk about a locker room culture. The actual physical locker room - literally the locker room was a sanctuary, that the players were great, and the players respected women and treated them with dignity and respect and that one of the ironies here - we hear these sports scandals with athletes. The women who talked to us about their, you know, their complaints, that the athletes themselves, the players and the head coach, Rick Carlisle, were absolutely - a place where they sought refuge. So no, this did not involve players.

MARTIN: So then this is the question we always ask in these stories, but how was it - how was it that this was allowed to go on for so long?

WERTHEIM: It's a great question, and here it comes with a twist, that the owner, Mark Cuban, has built his brand on being hyperattentive, the hands-on owner. So how does a guy who owns the team not know this and allow this to persist? But I think also when the CEO is one of the central figures, when the CEO is doing the hiring, when the CEO is above the HR people on the org chart, I think that's really relevant. And we got sort of an unfortunately vivid example of it in this case.

MARTIN: Any sense of repercussions here for the team and organization?

WERTHEIM: You know, the team and NBA have released statements. There's going to be this time not an internal investigation but an independent investigation. Already Mark Cuban - and I say this to his credit - has terminated some of the employees that we wrote about. He has, you know, instituted changes. He's setting up a third party hotline. I do think this is a case happily where there will be some cultural changes. There have been already.

MARTIN: Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated - we talked to him via Skype. Jon, thanks so much for sharing your reporting with us.

WERTHEIM: Anytime. Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.