LOS ANGELES — A former sports reporter has filed a lawsuit in which she accuses new Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton of sexually assaulting her when he was an assistant with the Golden State Warriors.
Kelli Tennant, who worked for Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles, filed the lawsuit Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that the incident occurred at the Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, Calif. At a news conference held at her lawyer’s office Tuesday, Tennant said the incident occurred in 2014, coinciding with Walton’s tenure as a Warriors assistant from 2014 to 2016. The lawsuit was first reported by TMZ.
Tennant, a former college volleyball standout at USC, said that she has known Walton and his wife for 10 years through their shared time in local volleyball circles. After Tennant was hired as a sports reporter by Spectrum SportsNet in 2013, she briefly worked with Walton, who was an analyst for the network, which was then known as Time Warner. Walton became a professional mentor to her, and she asked him to write the foreword for a book she was writing on athletes transitioning away from professional sports upon their retirement.
Tennant said she drove to Walton’s hotel during a Warriors road trip to provide him with a copy of the book as a sign of her gratitude for his contribution. When she arrived at the hotel, he instructed her to come inside and follow him to his room because “he didn’t want to be seen in the lobby with the players.” While she was hesitant at first, she said she had trusted Walton and he had reassured her that she shouldn’t worry.
Upon accepting his invitation to come to his room, she alleged that Walton assaulted her.
“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down with all of his weight,” she said. “He kissed my neck, my face and my chest. As I kept asking him to please stop and get off, he laughed at me. I continued to ask him to stop over and over again without any use of my arms. I could feel him rubbing his erection on me. He continued to laugh at all of my pleas to get off and to stop. I thought he was going to rape me.”
Walton denied the accusation through his attorney.
“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations,” Mark Baute said in a statement to the Sacramento Bee. “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
In a brief statement to the Bee, the Kings said they “are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.” The NBA is also investigating, according to ESPN. A league spokesman told the Athletic that the league is “coordinating with the Kings organization” and “in the process of gathering more information.”
The Los Angeles Lakers said in a statement that the alleged incident occurred before Walton was hired as their head coach.
“At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers,” the team said. “If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”
The Warriors were similarly unaware, they said.
“We became aware of the alleged incident and story [late Monday] evening and are in the process of seeking more information,” their statement said. “We’ll have no further comment at this time.”
Tennant’s book, “The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life after Sports,” was published in 2014. Walton played for the Lakers from 2003 to 2012. After he retired from playing, he did some broadcast work, at times appearing with Tennant on Spectrum SportsNet, which carries Lakers games. He then became an assistant coach with Golden State and was head coach of the Lakers until he and the team parted ways this month. He was quickly named coach of the Kings.
Garo Mardirossian, Tennant’s lawyer, said at the news conference that Tennant had not reported the alleged assault to police or to anyone at Spectrum SportsNet. However, Mardirossian said Tennant had told multiple people close to her about the incident. Tennant said she chose to wait until now because she was just 25 years old at the time of the original incident and was worried about her job security.
“As a young woman who had only been in this job for less than a year, who was incredibly grateful for where I was and had worked incredibly hard to get to that point, I was scared,” she said. “I felt coming forward would jeopardize every aspect of my life.”
Tennant continued to work for Spectrum SportsNet and covered other sports as well as basketball, interacting with Walton at practices after he became the Lakers’ coach and at a charity event in 2017. Tennant alleges in the lawsuit that there was a “pattern of mistreatment” by Walton, including a May 2017 incident in which Walton made lewd noises and hugged Tennant inappropriately at a charity event at which he and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss were honored.
“Every feeling I had from that first experience of feeling disgusted and betrayed came back,” she said. “He hugged me and pressed his body against me and kissed me on the cheek. I couldn’t believe, knowing what he had already done to me, [he] knowingly touched me in that way. I had to moderate a panel and talk about how amazing he was for an hour, and it literally killed me inside.”
Mardirossian said their interest in discussing the incident publicly “is not to have Mr. Walton put in jail or to be investigated by police” but to allow “Kelli to feel better about herself.” He added that an apology from Walton would “go a long, long way” to helping Tennant forgive him, and said that the lawsuit does not allege “physical injury” and that there is no photos or video evidence to corroborate Tennant’s account.
Tennant left her job shortly after the May 2017 incident and has not returned to TV work. In a 2017 Outlier podcast, she spoke of how difficult her job could be in a profession dominated by men.
“I have definitely been in situations with people that are uncomfortable,” she said, adding that she had learned to value herself. “That has really gotten me through it. I am here to do my job. I am here to be respected. And I respect myself, and I expect you to respect me in return. Because I have that mentality, I can say now I don’t have any problems with players.”
Since leaving television, Tennant has anchored Amazon Prime’s coverage of the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour and focused on a health and wellness podcast and a blog called “Ceremony Wellness.” (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
On her Instagram account, which has more than 33,000 followers, Tennant describes herself as “advocating for women to help them heal, grow, and elevate their lives.”
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