When reports first came out that the Boston Celtics’ head coach Ime Udoka would be suspended for an inappropriate relationship with a female staff member, the reaction on social media was fierce. Internet trolls directed vicious comments toward multiple women employed by the organization, speculating who was involved in the allegations and sharing personal information about them.
It was a difficult point for the Celtics’ president of operations Brad Stevens during a Friday press conference.
“We have a lot of really talented women in our organization,” Stevens said, visibly choking up. “And I thought yesterday was really hard on them. And I think that, you know, nobody can control Twitter speculation — rampant [expletive]. But I do think that we, as an organization, have a responsibility to make sure we’re there to support them now, because a lot of people were dragged unfairly into that.”
According to Lauren Hindman, assistant professor of sport management at Stonehill College, the Celtics didn’t have great options for how to respond. It couldn’t identify those who were not involved without automatically revealing those who were, but, she said, the team could have disclosed more details about the situation to minimize the amount of speculation.
“People were blaming the women because this was a ’consensual’ relationship, as it was being reported,” she said during an appearance on Greater Boston Monday night. “Even though that term — ‘consensual’ — was used and was reported initially, further reporting has suggested that there was more to the story, that there were some unwanted comments involved.”
Hindman underscored that the situation aggravated existing stereotypes about women who work in professional sports.
“One thing that women face working in sport that I’ve found in my research is an assumption that they are working in sport because they want to sleep with the players — or in this case, a coach,” she said. “And that’s not true, but it’s something they have to face in their workplace, and now they were having to face it on Twitter, out in the open [in] public.”
Both Hindman and Gary Washburn, NBA and Celtics reporter with The Boston Globe, speculated that there was more to the story given the severity and length of the suspension. The team was on the heels of a winning season, and they were heading into a new season with high expectations after reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years.
“This coach, Ime Udoka, led them to the NBA Finals his first season,” Washburn said. “This had to be worst-case scenario for the franchise. Believe me, they did not want to do this. This is not someone with an axe to grind against coach Udoka. The actions had to meet the penalty.”
“Certainly we wouldn’t expect to see this lengthy of a suspension for a consensual relationship, potentially even with a power dynamic at play,” Hindman added.
When asked if this level of punishment could send a warning to other high-ranking officials in the league, she was hesitant to say it would.
“I see this again and again,” she said. “I don’t know if it will be enough.”
Watch: Did the Celtics do enough to protect employees surrounding Udoka scandal?