The thinly veiled anger and disgust coming from the Boston Celtics now is a little rich.
It was “really unfortunate and unnecessary” that female employees became the subject of baseless speculation, co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said Friday. It was “bullshit” that they were dragged through the mud by Internet sleuths, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens added.
Yeah, well, how do you think that happened? The Celtics have known since earlier this summer that coach Ime Udoka was having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate – this is the proper way to describe it, by the way, for all of you who zoned out during sexual harassment training – and knew since Wednesday night that reporters were aware of the story.
And yet, the Celtics didn’t do a damn thing.
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For nearly 24 hours after the first report, which both mischaracterized the sexual misconduct and was needlessly specific in its details, the Celtics said nothing. They knew the feeding frenzy that was occurring Thursday, as names and photos of women who work for the team were floated for no other reason than that they worked for the team, and they said nothing. They watched as women who have busted their asses to prove themselves in a male-dominated world had their hard-earned reputations ripped to shreds – again, with no basis of fact – and said nothing.
Not until late Thursday night did the Celtics announce Udoka’s season-long suspension and, even then, their statement made no mention of the trauma and harassment their female employees had been enduring. That finally came Friday morning, a full 36 hours too late.
So spare me the blame shifting disguised as concern by Grousbeck and Stevens. If they really cared about the women who work for the team, if they had ever bothered to educate themselves on the landmines that abound for women who dare to enter a boy’s club, they’d have taken steps to protect them before they were savaged in the digital town square.
“There was messaging sent out, there were meetings to make sure everybody’s available for them,” Stevens said. “I think we still need to make sure we’re there for a while beyond that.”
Fat lot of good that’s going to do.
From now on, whenever you Google the names of women who work for the Celtics, stories about Udoka’s suspension will pop up. Some will say she was “cleared,” as if she was the one who did something wrong, but others will be of the voyeuristic sort that feed the misguided idea that women only work in sports – or business or technology or any other male-dominated industry – so they can hook a man.
From now on, women who say they work for the Celtics will be greeted with a raised eyebrow, literally or figuratively, it doesn’t matter, as people wonder if she was “the one.” They will silently judge her, blaming her for the downfall of the Celtics’ promising young coach rather than having empathy for someone who finds herself on the wrong end of a power imbalance.
They will always be tainted by this, and the thoughts and prayers of Grousbeck and Stevens after the fact won’t change that.
The Celtics are not alone in their guilt, of course. Media members, almost all of whom are men, described the relationship between Udoka and the Celtics employee as “consensual” even though there can be no such thing when the other person has the power to end your career or advance it. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith tried to turn Udoka into a sympathetic figure, saying inappropriate conduct “happens all the time,” but other instances of it don’t get publicized.
But it was the Celtics who had a duty to care for their employees. And they didn’t until it was too late.
Rather than the belated outrage at the toxic situation female Celtics employees found themselves in this week, Grousbeck and Stevens should have acknowledged that their own actions helped put them there.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.