Former sports reporter Kelli Tennant spoke out Tuesday about her sexual assault allegations against Luke Walton, the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Tennant, who used to work as a reporter for Spectrum SportsNet LA, filed a lawsuit Monday alleging the NBA coach and former player forced himself on her after inviting her into his hotel room in Santa Monica, California, in 2014. At the time, Walton was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.
“I’m no longer comfortable staying silent,” Tennant said Tuesday at a news conference with her attorney Garo Mardirossian.
Tennant described the alleged assault in detail, saying it happened in 2014, after the publication of her book, “The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports,” for which Walton wrote a foreword. (The alleged incident was before he became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.)
At the time of the assault, she said she had already known Walton for years and considered him “a mentor and a friend.” They had met at a volleyball tournament years before, and then in 2013 Walton did some work as an analyst for sports coverage at Time Warner, where she worked. (Tennant was a volleyball player and coach before working in sports broadcasting.)
When the book came out, she asked to meet to give him a copy, and he suggested she come to his hotel, she said. He invited her to his room, and, though she said was “hesitant,” she decided that “as someone I trusted for a long time, I realized I shouldn’t overthink it.”
“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me,” she said, describing the alleged assault in the hotel room. She said Walton pinned her down. “When I asked him to please stop and get off, he laughed at me.”
She said he “rubbed his erection” on her as he held her arms down, laughing at her pleas for him to stop and get off. “I thought he was going to rape me,” she said.
Once she was able to get up to try to leave, she said he again pinned her arms behind her and kissed her neck. Eventually, she said, she was able to get away and left the room.
Over the following years, Tennant repeatedly had to interact with Walton as part of her job, something she said became increasingly difficult for her.
In 2016, they began to interact regularly once Walton became coach of the Lakers, a team she was covering as part of her job, she said. At one charity event, where Walton was a guest honoree, she said she met him at his car to bring him inside and Walton “looked me up and down slowly and started saying, ‘Mmm, you’re killing me in that dress.’”
“Every feeling I had... of feeling disgusted and betrayed came back,” she said.
Walton later hugged her, pressing his body against her and kissing her on the cheek, she said.
“I felt disgusting. I had to moderate a panel with him and talk about how amazing he was for an hour. And it literally killed me inside,” she recalled Tuesday.
Later she was promoted to covering the Lakers full time and had to go to games and practices weekly, increasing her interactions with him, she said. He regularly hugged her and kissed her on the cheek, she said.
At Tuesday’s news conference, some reporters asked why it took her this long to come forward.
“I was scared. When someone assaults you and you think you’re going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing,” she said.
She told people in her immediate family and others she was close to about the alleged assault, her lawyer said. She did not tell Spectrum, her employer at the time, and she didn’t talk to Walton about it. (Tennant left Spectrum SportsNet LA in 2017 and now hosts a health and wellness podcast.)
“I was scared,” she said. “I was scared for my job, my safety, what my life would be like.”
Her attorney said they were pursuing a civil complaint for damages, rather than criminal charges, because the intention was not to have Walton put in jail but to allow Tennant to tell her story. However, he added, they were not “closing the door” on going to the police.
The Sacramento Kings told HuffPost the team was “aware of the report” and “gathering additional information,” and had no further comment.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass told The Athletic on Tuesday that the organization is “coordinating with the Kings organization” and is “in the process of gathering more information.”
After hearing about the suit, Walton’s attorney Mark Baute told CNN Sports that the allegations were “baseless” and that “we intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
This article has been updated with a statement from the Sacramento Kings.