OPINION
02/24/2018 08:01 am ET Updated Feb 24, 2018

Mavericks Scandal Is An Opportunity For The NBA To Lead On The Me Too Movement

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Kevin C. Cox via Getty Images
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

When the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title last season, their MVP guard Stephen Curry said he would vote to decline the White House’s invitation to host the team in response to President Donald Trump’s stoking of social and racial injustice in America.

Trump responded with a tweet rescinding the invitation.

The NBA’s biggest superstar, LeBron James, responded to Trump by calling the president a “bum” in one of the 10 most re-tweeted tweets of 2017.

James was back in the news last week after Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham instructed him to “keep the political commentary to yourself. Or as someone once said, ‘shut up and dribble.’” The comment was unsurprisingly met with widespread condemnation across the sports and entertainment communities.

When it comes to the overlap between politics and social issues, the NBA has been uniquely forward thinking compared to other sports organizations like the NFL and MLB.

Baseball didn’t address its widespread problem with performance-enhancing-drugs (PEDs) until Congress held a series of congressional oversight hearings between 2005 and 2010 featuring players like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens.

The NFL is still trying to figure out how to deal with the rash of new studies showing the long-term consequences associated with playing football, namely chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. And the public battle between players and ownership over the #TakeAKnee movement was a source of tremendous tension this past year.

The NBA, however, has had more continuity between the league office, its coaches and its players. In the wake of Ingraham’s attack against James, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came to his defense, calling the attacks “incredibly unfair” while acknowledging the “enormous amount of racial tension [and an] enormous amount of social injustice” in America today.

The players, the face of the league, have been at the forefront of the social and political conversation unfolding in this country.

But this week, an explosive investigative expose from Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther in Sports Illustrated revealed stunning details of a culture that fostered sexual harassment within the Dallas Mavericks organization. The story recounts numerous allegations of sexual harassment by then-team President and CEO Terdema Ussery, who left the Mavericks in 2015, with one former employee calling the environment a “real life ′Animal House.’”

Of course, when the person at the top of the food chain can act this way without consequence, the example is set for all others who work below him. SI’s investigation revealed a pervasive problem with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior throughout the entire organization.

From Capitol Hill to Hollywood, the Me Too movement is dramatically reshaping professional ecosystems nationwide. What’s especially worth noting about the Dallas Mavericks situation is that the issue wasn’t in the locker room, but in the board room. The most revealing quote in the story came from a former female staffer:

I dealt with players all the time. I had hundreds of interactions with players and never once had an issue ... they always knew how to treat people. Then I’d go to the office and it was this zoo, this complete shitshow. My anxiety would go down dealing with players; it would go up when I got to my desk.”

As the Me Too movement spreads, so many industries, companies and institutions have been leading from behind. The NBA now has the chance to reclaim the high ground and protect its status as a socially conscious cultural leader. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, the players, the face of the league, have been at the forefront of the social and political conversation unfolding in this country. It would be a downright shame if the league tainted that by failing to sufficiently police itself.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Simon Cooper - PA Images via Getty Images
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

This is a leadership moment for the NBA commissioner. Silver needs to call for a league-wide, team-wide review of all HR practices and sexual harassment complaints. He needs to establish new procedures that allow victims of sexual harassment to come forward and share their stories in a protected and confidential way ― the establishment of a confidential hotline to report misconduct is an encouraging first step. The commissioner should initiate an independent investigation that culminates with a public report to ensure transparency and accountability. Any team owner that resists such a review and fails to take sufficient action against proven sexual harassers should face harsh penalties that include the forfeiture of draft picks ― fines aren’t enough when you’re dealing with billionaires.

Clearly, front offices need a cultural reset that must be initiated from the top down. Athletes like James, Curry and Kevin Durant have been willing to affix their legacies as players to their roles as social leaders. The league has an opportunity to hold itself to a higher standard and in so doing, preserve its moral integrity to support its players.

Kurt Bardella is a HuffPost columnist and a contributor to USA Today and NBC THINK. He is a former spokesperson for Rep. Darrell Issa, then-Sen. Olympia Snowe, then-Rep. Brian Bilbray, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBardella.

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