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Volume 22 No. 11
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Dallas chapter a crucial part in diversity’s playbook

NBA’s actions in wake of Mavericks front-office debacle and subsequent report are positive steps in the direction of workplace culture and opportunity

This NBA season preview issue of SBJ is an appropriate time to reflect on the aftermath of the workplace scandal with the Dallas Mavericks, which was first reported in Sports Illustrated in February and was followed by an extensive report released last month by a team of independent investigators. The environment in Dallas was flagrant. The lessons learned make up a playbook on how to be better.

The report is deeply disturbing and serves as yet another wake-up call about the mistreatment of women in the workplace that has been felt deeply over the last two years through the #MeToo movement. Now we add a high-profile NBA franchise owned by one of sports’ most well-known owners to the list of workplaces that have been unwelcome to many women.

The Dallas report was issued by lead investigator Anne Milgram, a former attorney general of New Jersey. The report concluded that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was not directly responsible for any misconduct, but his failure of leadership created a culture that allowed it. Cuban himself told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols: “In hindsight, it was staring me right in the face and I missed it.” Maybe Cuban did not recognize that there were no senior women involved in running the team. I do not have any doubt that if there were, the disgraceful climate for women would never have continued. The three men named in the report, who no longer work for the team, are not likely to have survived the eye of women in top positions. The Mavericks saga is another example of the value of a diverse workplace — and the price you can pay without one.

Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall instituted sweeping changes to the team’s HR policies and hiring efforts.
Photo: getty images

It’s also an example that change can happen even if painfully. The report concluded that as soon as the Sports Illustrated story broke, the Mavericks took immediate steps to clean house. Cuban immediately hired Cynthia Marshall, a former top executive at AT&T, as CEO. She immediately instituted new HR policies and protocols, fired employees and hired new ones — including increasing the number of women in senior positions from zero to 47 percent. After the report was issued, the NBA announced that it would oversee other mandated workplace changes and that Cuban agreed to contribute $10 million to help organizations that further the cause of women in sports and raise awareness about domestic violence. That was four times the amount that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver could impose as a fine — and critical funding that Marshall and the league will ensure makes the biggest impact.

The report also offered 13 recommendations aimed at ensuring that workplace harassment is eliminated and diversity is improved, and all 30 NBA teams have been strongly encouraged by the league to adopt them. The recommendations include more effective harassment-reporting procedures, anonymous workplace surveys, and at the top of the list: Hire more women.

I write this column with a unique perspective based on the work I have done with the Institute for Sport and Social Justice (ISSJ, formerly the National Consortium for Academics and Sport) and The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida and at Northeastern University before that. We have Huddle Up to End Gender Violence, the longest standing sports-based program on men’s violence against women, which started in 1992. We also have the Teamwork Leadership Institute, the longest-standing sports-based program on diversity and inclusion, which started in 1989. Both programs worked with almost all of the pro leagues, more than 150 colleges and the military. From a research perspective, with TIDES we have a unique handle on racial and gender hiring practices and the impact of a diverse workplace through its Racial and Gender Report Card. We mentioned in our 2018 Report Card that, while earning the best record for hiring women among the men’s sports, the NBA’s grade for gender hiring had declined for the third straight year. At the time of the report, Commissioner Silver said it was a priority of the NBA to improve, especially for women in leadership positions. The league’s actions after the Mavericks report are important steps forward.

In addition to encouraging teams to implement the Dallas report’s recommendations, the league also sent a memo to teams after it hosted its inaugural NBA Women’s Leadership Forum for the more than 400 women at the league office — nearly half of its workforce. The memo highlighted several events that will be organized this year to help ensure a safe and welcoming workplace culture across the league, including one event planned over the All-Star break in Charlotte to expand “the pipeline of female talent in basketball operations roles.” The league also asked teams to hold “community conversations” with their own employees to have an honest and open dialogue about these critical issues.

Sports can take a leadership role in dealing with the pervasive issue of systematic mistreatment of women in the workplace and in society. The NBA has played a leading role in using the power of sport to foster positive social change, and I am hopeful that with the leadership of Adam Silver and Kathy Behrens the league will take the lessons from a once terrible situation in Dallas and use them to do good everywhere. History says the NBA will follow that playbook.


Richard Lapchick ( is the chair of the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sport Business Management Program, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, and president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick.