Who Is Kelli Tennant? New Details About Journalist Accusing NBA Coach Luke Walton Of Sexually Assaulting Her

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Who Is Kelli Tennant? New Details About Journalist Accusing NBA Coach Luke Walton Of Sexually Assaulting Her

In one of the first instances of the #MeToo movement reaching into professional sports, a journalist is alleging that she was sexually assaulted by an NBA coach in 2014. Kelli Tennant, who was a Division 1 athlete before retiring from volleyball due to health issues, has been a sports journalist since 2010. This month she announced she would be filing suit against recently appointed Sacramento Kings Head Coach Luke Walton. Tennant alleges that the 2014 incident happened in a hotel room where she was meeting with Walton, a former colleague of hers, to discuss the recent publication of her book. She is seeking unspecified damages. The fallout could have professional consequences for Walton, as his new team and the NBA mount investigations into the incident. Who is Kelli Tennant? Read on for all the details.

1. Collegiate athlete

Tennant was an athlete herself before moving to broadcasting. Her bio from the USC website says “Kelli Tennant played two seasons at USC (2005-06)…Tennant was sidelined for the entire season after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a rare, non-life threatening human pain disorder)…she retired from collegiate volleyball at the conclusion of the season…despite the injury, she served as one of the team’s co-captains.” Her bio also reveals that USC is where she first got into sports journalism, providing color commentary and player interviews for USC TV outlets as a student.

Tennant is a lifelong athelete despite health issues.

2. Journalist

After college, Tennant went on to have a successful career as a sports journalist. She has worked for multiple outlets including  ESPN, PAC12, E!News, Fox Sports, Spectrum Sportsnet and SportsNet LA. She now hosts the Ceremony Wellness podcast. 

Tennant is a respected journalist and author. 

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3. Luke Walton

Tennant claims to have met Luke Walton many years ago at a volleyball tournament. They also worked together at Time Warner in 2013, where she was covering the Lakers and he was an NBA analyst. Their professional relationship was close and he worked with her on her 2014 book The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports. Walton, a former NBA player, took a job as an assistant coach in 2014 with the Golden State Warriors, before being hired by the Lakers in 2016. The Sacramento Kings announced this month that he been hired as their head coach.

The suit alleges sexual assault.

4. Allegations

Shortly after Walton’s move to Sacramento was announced, news of Tennant’s accusations broke. The allegations were first detailed in an unfiled lawsuit. It has since been filed California court. In a press conference on April 23rd, Tennant gave a prepared statement with her account of the events as they happened in 2014. According to Deadspin, she described meeting up with Walton and discussing the recent publication of her book. He invited her to his room to talk more about it, saying that there were players in the lobby and he didn’t want them to see him. Once they were in his room, she said:  “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 while he kissed my neck and my face and my chest. And as I kept asking him to please stop and to get off, he laughed at me. I continued to ask him to stop over and over again, without any use of my arms, because he continued to hold me down. I could feel him rubbing his erection on me, and he continued to laugh at all of my pleas to get off and to stop. I thought he was going to rape me.” She went on to describe how she tried to leave the room and pleaded with Walton to leave her alone, while he laughed in her ear. She did eventually get out of the room.

5. Walton’s response

Walton so far has not directly addressed these allegations but he has hired prominent defense attorney Mark Baute to represent him in the case. The Heavy reports that Baute has taken the all too familiar approach of casting aspersions on Tennant’s honesty by saying to NBC News “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

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Walton has not issued a statement.

6. NBA weighs in

The NBA teams associated with Walton have issued statements of their own, the Heavy reports.  The Kings said: “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.” Meanwhile, Walton’s former team the Lakers said: “This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. 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, who hired Walton in 2014, said: “We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

In addition to the suit, the Kings and the NBA are mounting a joint investigation into this matter. According to the New York Post, the Kings have hired Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux and the NBA’s investigatory team will be led by senior vice president and assistant general counsel Elizabeth Maringer. In a joint statement, the team and the league say “The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.”

Walton is under investigation by the Kings and the NBA.

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.