After exposing the toxic sexism of Hollywood and the media, #MeToo is finally reaching the NBA. Former sports reporter Kelli Tennant has filed a sexual assault lawsuit against Luke Walton, the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings and ex-head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, alleging he forced himself on her in his California hotel room on an unspecified date in the past.
In court documents obtained by TMZ, Tennant, a reporter for Spectrum SportsNet and SportsNet L.A., said she and Walton had a friendly business relationship when she sought him out to write the foreword to her book during his tenure as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors (a post he left for the Lakers in 2016). But after meeting up at his Santa Monica hotel, Tennant claims Walton invited her to “catch up” in his room, where he pinned her down on the bed, and “began forcing kisses on her neck, face, and chest,” ignoring her screams for him to stop and attempts to get free. According to TMZ’s account of the lawsuit, Tennant alleges Walton “held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.”
“She was afraid she was about to be raped,” the suit says. When Tennant finally did get free, Walton “walked her out of the room as if nothing had happened,” according to TMZ, smiling, laughing, and allegedly sending her off with “the disturbing statement, ‘Good to see you.’ ”
Walton, who has been married to Bre Ladd since 2013, is vehemently denying the allegations through his attorney, calling them “baseless” in a statement and going so far as to claim Tennant is “an opportunist, not a victim, & her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
Tennant claims in the lawsuit that Walton’s harassment continued in her subsequent work-related contacts with him after the alleged encounter at the hotel. TMZ reports: “She says each time she saw him, Walton would make implied threats of additional physical threats through his conduct—imposing himself on her with big hugs or a kiss, even though she thought she made it clear his advances were unwanted.” As head coach of the Lakers in 2017, Tennant says Walton greeted her with “vulgar, guttural sounds,” remarking, “mmmm . . . you’re killing me in that dress.”
It feels, unfortunately, like it was only a matter of time before #MeToo came to the NBA, a severely male-dominated industry in which women are systemically marginalized and blocked from the top jobs: there are exactly no women head coaches in the NBA, and men overwhelmingly hold referee and announcer positions, while even veteran female journalists are largely assigned to sideline reporting. The machismo is perhaps best summed up by one of President Trump’s picks to join the Federal Reserve Board, Stephen Moore, who wrote in a 2002 National Review column about college basketball: “Here’s the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer venders, no women anything.” Based on Tennant’s allegations, this staffing model—one that is also quite familiar to the NBA—doesn’t appear to be working out too well for the women within it.
In response to TMZ’s story, the Kings said in a statement: “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”