By Dorothy J. Gentry
One day before the official restart of the NBA 2019-20 season, and two years after it addressed allegations of pervasive inappropriate conduct in the workplace—including a culture of sexual harassment—the Dallas Mavericks organization found itself the subject of another report detailing an alleged sexual assault.
The Sports Illustrated report details allegations of sexual assault by Tony Ronzone, Mavs’ director of player personnel, while he was off-duty in July 2019 at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Ronzone, who has not faced criminal charges, denied the allegations through his lawyers.
The SI report also questioned the validity of the Mavs organization’s own internal investigation into the allegation. (Full SI story here)
Hours after the SI report, the Mavs issued a sternly worded statement in response:
For over a month, the Mavericks organization has cooperated with Sports Illustrated on a story about an alleged sexual assault by a member of the Mavs’ staff. The Mavs take all allegations of sexual assault extremely seriously and reminded SI of the ZERO-TOLERANCE policy put in place in March of 2018 that includes zero-tolerance of misconduct of any kind such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying, false allegations, etc. The Mavs, in pursuit of truth since the allegations were first made in September 2019, are appalled that Sports Illustrated reported a story, knowing the Mavs were not provided all of the purported evidence.
Through several comprehensive phone calls and emails, the Mavs have given details of the organization’s thorough investigation that spanned 6 months and involved 3 seasoned investigators, concluding with the SVP HR flying to Las Vegas to get promised information that was never provided.
During the investigation when the alleged victim directly spoke with the Mavs, she never mentioned the sworn declarations. To the Mavs’ knowledge these sworn statements first surfaced after she engaged Sports Illustrated and the Bloom firm. It is abundantly clear from the communications between the Bloom firm and the alleged victim described in the article that they never intended on giving the Mavs the information unless the Mavs came to the negotiating table to discuss a settlement. If this was truly a matter of establishing her credibility—particularly in light of the alleged victim’s contemporaneous text messages, some of which were cited in the article –the alleged victim or her attorneys could have sent the redacted sworn affidavits without strings attached.
Sports Illustrated has the sworn statements. Her attorneys have the sworn statements. She even offered to give the sworn statements to a neutral party, like the NBA. However, she chose not to provide the Mavericks the sworn statements that she felt were so important and claims could have changed the conclusion of the Mavericks’ investigation. A fundamental element of fairness and due process is that both sides get to see all the evidence.
Not only does this one-sided, incomplete and sensational form of journalism, with its multiple inaccuracies, mischaracterizations and omissions, seek to harm the reputations of the accused, but it dredges up the past for so many women and men in the Mavs’ organization and some who no longer work at the Mavs. The organization is providing counseling for those who need it because the Mavs have worked tirelessly to take care of employees, both personally and professionally.
Below is a sample list of inaccuracies, omissions and mischaracterizations in the article, including facts and statements the Mavericks gave Sports Illustrated during the past month of cooperation.
- The request in the original email from the alleged victim to the Mavs organization was about money for her camps overseas, however the Mavs could not ignore the sexual assault subject line and associated information in the email.
- On multiple occasions, the Mavs organization encouraged the alleged victim to file a police report, but she chose not to do so.
- The alleged victim continued to say that others (outside of the Mavs) had promised her things like this in the past, but never delivered.
- The alleged victim had many opportunities to provide the Mavs organization more information during the investigation, during the legal process and after the legal process. At the alleged victim’s request, the final opportunity came in March 2020 when the SVP HR flew to meet the victim at the location of her choosing, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The statements were never provided, only a larger request for money was made.
- The requests for money continued to get bigger throughout the process with the victim stating she wanted something “big and life-changing.”
- Her story about the sexual harassment changed each time the Mavs spoke with her. SI was provided details about what changed in the story.
- SI omitted critical communication, including several text messages, between the alleged victim and the alleged accuser.
It is concerning that Sports Illustrated published this piece with several facts having been omitted, mischaracterized and reported inaccurately. SI knows that this case was brought to the Mavs with a request for money and merchandise, however the Mavs conducted a thorough investigation into all matters contained in the original email including allegations of sexual assault. The Mavs have always responded immediately every time the alleged victim has reached out during and after the formal investigation process. The Mavs have always been in pursuit of the truth. The formal investigation is currently closed pending further credible evidence emerging and the zero-tolerance policy remains.
As a result of the 2018 investigation into allegations of harassment and workplace misconduct, the franchise is required to report allegations of misconduct by any employee to the NBA, according to the report. The Mavericks reported the incident with Ronzone in November and the league remained in communication with the team during the internal investigation, according to league officials.
The report details the victim, not identified by SI but one they deemed credible, told them about reaching out to Mavs owner Mark Cuban via email in September 2019 to report what she described as “inappropriate behavior at the hands of an executive from the Dallas Mavericks.”
In later communications with the team, the report states, she would identify Ronzone. In the subject field of her email, SI reports, she wrote “Sexual Harassment Incident—Mavs Executive July 2019: Response Request.”
According to the report, the Mavericks conducted an internal investigation after the victim emailed Cuban. Their investigation and subsequent findings showed no organizational responsibility, according to the team.
However there were specific details included in SI’s report including:
In basketball terms, Sarah likens what happened to her to a “physical mismatch.” That’s how she says she felt after getting thrown onto the bed of a Las Vegas hotel room in July 2019. The “opponent” in this case was twice her weight and roughly a foot taller.
This, she says, is what happened that night: The man, Tony Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, first tried to kiss her, sticking his tongue down her throat. When she said “no,” and added that she was married, he said, “It doesn’t matter. We’re in Vegas. No one’s going to know.”
He then, she says, threw her onto the bed—with force—and straddled her, pinning her body. “I couldn’t move an inch,” she says. She recalls telling Ronzone: “You’re making me feel really uncomfortable right now.”
According to the victim and the report, the two first met during the 2018 NBA Summer League. Ronzone declined comment and forwarded the question to his personal lawyer, Mark Baute. According to the SI report, “via email, Baute issued a statement on behalf of his client: “Her claims are meritless, her allegations change every month, and we are unclear on how or why her husband, who was there with her, did not come by to get the tickets.” (Sarah denies this and contends that her husband has never met Ronzone and was not present, but with her parents that entire evening.) Baute concluded his statement, “If any lawsuit is ever filed, we look forward to proving Mr. Ronzone’s innocence.”
According to the SI report, the victim told several people about the incident including a former federal agent who’s now a security consultant for an Eastern Conference team and Mavericks assistant coach Darrell Armstrong, a longtime friend of the victim’s, according to Sports Illustrated. She told him of the assault a few days later. According to the report, Armstrong told her Ronzone would be fired if Mavericks bosses found out, and he alerted Marshall and Cuban to the victim’s intent to speak out.
According to Sports Illustrated, the Mavs had an opportunity to access those sworn witness statements upon signing a nondisclosure agreement, but the Mavericks’ lawyers did not respond to the offer before the organization concluded its investigation.
According to the report, a lawyer from Winston and Strawn representing the Mavs told Sports Illustrated the victim and her attorneys “refused to provide these declarations to the Mavericks and to us unless certain conditions were agreed upon—conditions that went well beyond protecting the identity of the individuals who executed those affidavits or statements.”
According to the report, several Mavericks employees spoke with the victim, including CEO Cynt Marshall. She told SI that Ronzone remains with the team because “there was no evidence presented of sexual assault,” the report said.
Ronzone has worked for Mavericks since 2012 and has also been a scout and director of international scouting for them.
Sports Illustrated’s first report on the Mavericks in February 2018 was also written by Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther. A seven-month investigation resulted in the hiring of Marshall and the announcement that Cuban would donate $10 million to women’s organizations that combat domestic violence and support the leadership and development of women.
At that time, the NBA also issued a statement on the investigation’s findings which found no evidence of workplace misconduct by Cuban personally. The investigation substantiated numerous instances of sexual harassment and other improper workplace conduct within the Mavericks over a period spanning more than 20 years and found “Mavericks’ management was ineffective, including a lack of compliance and internal controls, and the shortcomings permitted an environment in which acts of misconduct and the individuals who committed them could flourish.”
“The findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and heartbreaking and no employee in the NBA, or any workplace for that matter, should be subject to the type of working environment described in the report,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.