What do we know for certain about the allegations of sexual assault allegations made against new Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton?
We know a young woman, Kelli Tennant, has made deeply disturbing claims about Walton and gave a calm recitation of her story and why she was telling it now, roughly five years after it allegedly happened.
We know her allegation came to light late Monday and was first reported by TMZ. Tennant held a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, where she said that Walton sexually assaulted her in his hotel room in 2014.
She said he pinned her down. She said he laughed at her as she pleaded with him to stop. She said she thought he was going to rape her.
All we’ve heard so far from the Kings are crickets.
All we’ve really heard from the Kings side – through Walton’s lawyer – are attacks on Tennant.
“The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible,” said Mark Baute said in a statement made public on Tuesday. “We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
Then on Wednesday, Baute said: “These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court. (Tennant’s press conference) was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement.
“Her lawyers want to create a public circus to distract from the complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay one dime.”
What we can say about Baute’s words and his tactics is that they are not new and they indicate an aggressive posture that push the Kings further into a public relations nightmare.
Walton could have approached this situation in any number of ways through his lawyer. He could have said that he denied the allegations without characterizing Tennant as an “opportunist.” He could have said that he’s confident about prevailing without the “or pay one dime” crack from his lawyer.
Putting aside for a moment the substance of Tennant’s claims, we can say with the backing of history that Baute’s characterizations and bullying tactics are illustrative of why some women fear going public with stories of abuse, harassment, assault, rape, retribution, intimidation, etc.
In the era of #MeToo, we know – or we should know – that what Tennant has done is an invitation for public ridicule. It’s an invitation for the accuser to be blamed more harshly than the accused.
Walton and his lawyer are clearly looking out for his interests and that is Walton’s right. And Walton obviously deserves his benefit of the doubt at this stage of this sad chapter in his and Tennant’s life.
But Baute’s scorched-earth comments are similar to the tactics employed by U.S. Senate Republicans last summer when attacking the credibility of Christine Blasey Ford – the Bay Area woman who accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades before, when they were high school students.
Kavanaugh was nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court when Ford’s allegations came to light. And the GOP majority took an aggressive posture toward Ford. As we all know, Kavanaugh was seated on the high court and Ford has had to move several times because of repeated death threats.
Baute even gave a nod toward #MeToo by calling it “an important movement” but that Tennant is “not a viable spokesperson” for it.
OK, answer this question: Name one woman who made a #MeToo claim and was universally accepted as a “viable spokesperson?”
You won’t find one. Every one is called a fraud by someone, particularly when the accused is a powerful man with a lot to lose. Every one gets ripped by men and women depending on the accused and the politics.
When Ford made her accusation, some of the nastiest comments I saw on my social media page came from women who seemed to have a strong interest in Kavanaugh getting seated on the court.
What’s too often missing in the #MeToo era is a process in which a search for truth is the priority over the politics and profit motives all wrapped up in the accused male’s position.
This is where the Kings must step in, because Walton is their employee and every time Walton’s lawyer goes on the attack, he is not necessarily serving the interests of the Kings. Sports fans aren’t the only ones watching and commenting on the Walton matter. Based on what I’ve seen, you can pretty much dismiss most of the sports-centered commentary on Walton as almost irrelevant.
The Kings know this, or should know this. Very serous people are watching what happens with the Walton issue and here is a prediction: If Baute’s strident voice becomes the de-facto voice of the Kings, some serious people in Sacramento are going to have something to say about it.
This Walton issue isn’t a new controversy in Sacramento. The culture of the state capitol has been rocked by #MeToo and addressed by the work of non-profits such as “We Said Enough.” That group has created a framework for women to face their accusers with legal, financial and moral support.
So what can the Kings do to regain control of this before Baute turns it into a sideshow that forces people to choose sides between accuser and accused? The team needs to work with the NBA to hire an independent investigator to vet this matter dispassionately.
Walton is their employee. If he declines to participate, then he has a problem. And if Tennant declines to participate, then she has a credibility problem.
The #MeToo accusations implode when the accused goes on the attack and those of us on the sidelines do the same. Why did Tennant wait so long to accuse Walton? Ford waited even longer. Women in Sacramento have said publicly that their lives were derailed for years by the men they accused of hurting them.
Life is complicated, relationships are complicated. But, in the Walton case, the remedy is pretty straightforward.
This is not a criminal case. It’s a civil case, an employment case. The Kings need to decide what is best for them to do as an organization. Clearly, the Kings are in a difficult spot here because they just hired Walton and put so much faith, money and emotion in that hiring.
But no one person is bigger than any organization. And the Kings have a lot more to worry about than just Walton.
They have their brand to think about. It is a franchise that profits from good will. If the team continues to remain silent, if it doesn’t address what it plans to do, then it is choosing to be held hostage by one man’s problems, and those will define it. The clock is ticking.