Former TV sports reporter Kelli Tenant has accused Luke Walton, current head coach of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, of sexual assault. In a new civil lawsuit, Tennant claims that Walton pinned her to a hotel room bed without her consent – and laughed at her when she told him to stop. This is the first public assault allegation against Walton, who was recently fired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuit Filed Against Luke Walton
In her lawsuit, filed on Monday, April 22, 2019, Tennant says she encountered Walton at his hotel in 2014. Tennant had just written a book, The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports, for which Walton authored the foreword. Following the book’s publication, Tennant offered to drop a copy off at Walton’s Los Angeles hotel room. She says she considered the man at the time to be a long-time friend and mentor.
At the time, Walton was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors. And while Tennant assumed that the two would meet in the hotel’s lobby, she says that Walton told her to come up to his room, because there were Warriors players in the lobby. Once inside Walton’s room, Tennant claims that the then-assistant coach pinned her to the bed and started groping and forcibly kissing her.
She says he did not stop even after she begged him to. “Out of nowhere,” Tennant said at a press conference, “he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down with all of his weight while he kissed my neck and my face and my chest.” She claims that, when she asked Walton to stop, “he laughed at me.”
“I Thought He Was Going To Rape Me”
“I thought he was going to rape me,” Tennant says, adding that Walton eventually let her get off the bed. As she went to leave the room, Tennant claims that Walton grabbed her again and kissed her on the neck, before saying, “good to see you” and letting her leave.
Tennant says that, since the alleged assault, she has been forced to interact with Walton at numerous occasions in a professional setting. She says the coach would often force hugs on her. In May 2017, she claims, Walton made “vulgar, guttural sounds at her” and commented on her physical appearance.” Walton would have been the Lakers head coach at the time.
Tennant Feared Professional Repercussions
At her press conference, a reporter asked Tennant why she had not reported the assault to police or her employer, she said she told a few people at the time, but decided not to press criminal charges. “I was scared,” she said. “I felt coming forward would jeopardize every aspect of my life.” Now that so much time has passed, a criminal case against Walton over the alleged assault is unlikely, says Tennant’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian. Instead, Tennant has chosen to pursue civil litigation, filing a private lawsuit in Los Angeles County court.
Attorney Says NBA Is Rife With Gender Inequity
Attorney Mardirossian says that Tennant’s alleged experience is par for the course.
“Women connected to the National Basketball Association have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy and powerful men. Aided by their fame, money and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women.
As alleged in the lawsuit, Kelli Tennant – a former collegiate athlete and star sports broadcaster, is a woman who has had to tolerate and suffer in silence from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Luke Walton. By way of this lawsuit, Ms. Tennant is speaking out and saying #timesup to the culture of abusing women in the NBA.”
Walton’s attorney released a statement calling the accusations “baseless.” “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim,” said attorney Mark Baute, “her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
Walton’s Employment In Doubt
In a short press release after Tennant’s statements, the Sacramento Kings released a prepared statement, writing, “we are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.” The Kings hired Walton earlier this month. A former NBA player and son of NBA legend Bill Walton, Luke Walton left the Lakers in early April. The Lakers have denied having any knowledge of the alleged incident.