Opinion

Check your bias. The NBA cleared Luke Walton, but not how you think about the case.

What you need to know about NBA, Kings investigation clearing Luke Walton

Sports reporter Kelli Tennant has filed sexual assault allegations against Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton. Investigators hired by the team and NBA said there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations. Here's a look at the issue.
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Sports reporter Kelli Tennant has filed sexual assault allegations against Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton. Investigators hired by the team and NBA said there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations. Here's a look at the issue.

Right after the news had broken that Kings coach Luke Walton had essentially been cleared by the team of sexual assault allegations made against him by a former Los Angeles TV reporter, the NBA released a statement with a very interesting closing line that read:

“The investigation is considered closed unless new evidence becomes available.”

That’s about the size of it.

Walton is as cleared as he can be for now. He is cleared enough for the Kings to say, finally, on Friday that he is their coach 100 percent they are moving forward with him, and that’s that.

Walton is as cleared as he can be given that his accuser, Kelli Tennant, refused to participate in an investigation into her allegations commissioned by the Kings and the NBA.

Opinion

There are plenty of reasons why an accuser will refuse to participate in an investigation conducted by the employers of the man she accused, such as:

The accuser has her civil case against to think about and preparing for that is more important. And she might have information about the man that she accused and her lawyer’s won’t want to divulge it in a process run by his employers.

That was one of several justification cited by California workplace lawyers in a recent article published by the Association of Workplace Investigators as to why someone like Tennant might not trust or cooperate with the process that just cleared Walton.

And it is here that this issue goes haywire and people retreat to their personal biases – the woman is wronged! The man is railroaded! As opposed to a position that is, frankly, in line with the statement released by the NBA.

That is, the issue is closed unless more information pops up. Say what you want about the NBA, but it is being honest about what we know and what we can deduce about the Walton/Tennant issue at this time: We know as much as can know unless something else comes up.

And say what you want about the Kings, but they did all they can do. They acted swiftly. They hired a legitimate law firm, the Sacramento-based Van Dermyden Maddux, to look into the allegations against Walton.

The firm specializes in investigating workplace and Title IX campus matters in California and Nevada. Most of their lawyers are women. Sue Ann Van Dermyden, the senior partner, has a great reputation.

But sexual assault/sexual harassment cases are deeply polarizing and, when Bee colleagues of mine asked local experts about why an accuser would refuse to participate in a process against the accused, Julie Davies, a professor at McGeorge School of Law said: “Why participate in that if they thought it was rigged?”

That’s interesting because Sue Ann Van Demryden is a distinguished alum from McGeorge. Why can’t we respect that process? They tried to talk to Tennant and when she refused, they used her public comments and details from her lawsuit and attempted to corroborate them.

They couldn’t and, at the end of the day, the process of investigating Walton is an employment issue. The Kings looked into Tennant’s allegations that Walton assaulted her in his hotel room in 2014, pinned her to his bed and attempted to have intercourse with her. Without being able to substantiate these claims, they cleared him to coach.

It’s not 100 percent definitive, as the NBA admits, but its not nothing either.

When the allegations against Walton surfaced, I quoted Christine Pelosi and Adama Iwu – two prominent advocates for women who are sexually abused – and both said the Kings needed to open investigation quickly with a legit law firm. They did and the results of that investigation are the results.

Iwu is out of the country and Pelosi declined to comment in detail on the findings at this point. Why?

Because as the NBA said, this is as much as we can know unless anything new comes up. Unlike other sexual abuse/sexual assault cases, other women have not come forward to accuse Walton yet. If Tennant has some startling revelations, she will have a chance to present them at a civil trial that still could be years away – if it ever happens.

Why not respect Tennant and Walton and the Kings for doing what can be done up until this point? The Kings are not wrong for moving forward with Walton based on what we know now. If that changes, it changes.

In the meantime, maybe we all could respect all the parties involved and the idea that life is more complicated than our tightly held biases.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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