I’ll admit, when I first saw last night that Ime Udoka had been suspended by the Boston Celtics for the entire upcoming season, my eyes widened. Seemed awfully harsh for a relationship that every reporter seemed to stress was consensual. But then I have little experience in the corporate world and all the things lawyers craft to protect billion-dollar organizations.
But the more you think about it, the more the surprise comes from the mishandling by pretty much every other previous organization or league. There are power dynamics at work with almost all interoffice dalliances, and the complications can branch out in any sort of uncomfortable or damaging way during the relationship or in the fallout. We still don’t know the details of what Udoka did or didn’t do, and we may never find out. But it’s more than enough for the Celtics to say that it was inappropriate. Some of Vince McMahon’s relationships were considered consensual, and we know he was deservedly forced into retirement for paying the women hush money. These are only some of the problems people can run into.
The natural urge is to point at Deshaun Watson or Robert Sarver and loudly proclaim “Look at what they did and they actually hurt people!,” assuming Udoka hasn’t hurt anyone, which we don’t know. But just because the Browns, or the NFL, or the NBA didn’t get something right doesn’t mean the Celtics are beholden to follow the same path. This is what it takes for real change.
This kind of suspension — and possible removal of Udoka from the job altogether — gets noticed. Maybe the next time a coach or GM or powerful person in an organization starts getting wild ideas, they’ll know that there could actually be real consequences around the corner. Any team that doesn’t have this kind of policy would certainly have to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions should they have to deal with a similar situation and don’t react as harshly. Then again, teams and leagues haven’t had much of an issue answering an uncomfortable question or two at a press conference if they think it’ll be over quickly. If they can get a heeling sports press to even ask them. But again, a marker has to be put down somewhere, sometime.
Perhaps an overcorrection is in order. Men in powerful positions all over the world have acted with impunity since… well, the beginning of time. Perhaps to put things back in balance it needs to be that much harder on them. No one who matters should complain.
There is the unseemly side effect of all the women in the Celtics organization being eyed by a salacious press looking for someone to blame, essentially, women who didn’t do anything other than just work for the Celtics. That’s on the media, which should know better, though. None of these steps are clean or easy, but this is the kind of thing that eventually helps women everywhere in the sports workplace just be seen as parts of the sports workplace. That’s worth working toward, no matter how muddy that trail can get.
It only seems out of line for sports because sports haven’t lived up to the responsibility they need to carry. That’s where the surprise comes from, the bar is set so low. It may seem an overreaction to some, but that’s only because we’ve been underwhelmed for so long.