By David D. Dodge
Following an explosive story in Sports Illustrated (SI) about the corrosive culture of the Dallas Mavericks front office, the Mavs announced their search to fill a new position, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. This move to create and fill a “compliance” officer position by a professional sports team in the U.S. is rare indeed.
The scandal, as first reported by Sports Illustrated, characterizes “the Mavs’ hostile work environment – ranging from sexual harassment to domestic violence – as an open secret.” More than a dozen current and former Mavs’ employees were interviewed for the story. At the heart of the story, the then team president and CEO was accused of repeated harassment infractions. SI reported that while the team president and CEO was a “serial sexual harasser of women,” the corrosive workplace culture was pervasive within the entire front office.
While Mavs’ team owner, Mark Cuban, expressed embarrassment and horror at the accusations of employees in the SI story, he “insisted he had no knowledge of the corrosive culture in his offices.” He went on to say, “this is all new to me.” But recent news reports reveal that the subject of assault was not exactly new to Cuban.
In 2011 Cuban was investigated in a sexual assault of a woman in a downtown Portland, Oregon nightclub. Cuban denied the woman’s allegation and the local district attorney’s office determined there was no corroborative evidence to support her allegation and pursuing charges.
The recent SI story on the Mavs’ scandal was followed by the team’s job posting on the NBA website for the position, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. From the posting, this position “serves as the organization’s internal control point for ethics and improprieties, allegations, complaints, and conflicts of interest.” The new position reports directly to the CEO and is also responsible for the corporate culture.
Creating the compliance officer position is a ground-breaking first step for the Dallas Mavericks. What follows will surely depend on the individual chosen to fill the position and the support this person gets from Cuban and upper management. As experienced compliance professionals know all too well, hiring a compliance officer is just the first step in developing an effective compliance program.
Will a hotline be established to ensure employees can make anonymous reports of wrongdoing, will there be a commitment to conduct compliance training for all employees including the team owner, will the team’s players who are included in a collective bargaining unit be covered under the compliance program? In essence, are the Mavs committed to developing and establishing an effective compliance program to address the corrosive culture within their organization?
If so, and the right choice is made to fill the compliance officer position, perhaps the new Mavs’ corporate compliance program will evolve into a model for others, not just other NBA teams, but perhaps even teams in the NFL, MLB and the NHL.