‘Consensual’ doesn’t always matter when it comes to intimate workplace relationships

By greatbritton

Head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics reacts against the Golden State Warriors during Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. Udoka was suspended for the entire NBA season for having an intimate workplace relationship that violated team policy. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is well past the age of consent, which varies from 16-18 across the U.S. So is the unnamed Celtics staff member linked to Udoka’s season-long suspension. The grown coach had a consensual, intimate relationship (according to initial reports), with a grown woman who also works for the team. 

For those who don’t understand why Udoka was punished—with no guarantee of resuming his duties—forget about the adults’ ages. When it comes to consensual relationships in the workplace, subordinates might as well be minors. 

Their consent doesn’t count.

“I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down,” Udoka said in a statement. “I am sorry for putting the team in this difficult situation, and I accept the team’s decision. Out of respect for everyone involved, I will have no further comment.”

His silence is useless to everyone involved, namely the team’s female employees. They’re already victims of tabloid reporters and social-media sleuths. One minute, the women were minding their business, virtually anonymous; the next minute, they’re going viral, as folks throw out wild guesses as to who Udoka’s partner might be. 

“We have a lot of talented women in our organization and I thought yesterday was really hard on them,” Celtics president Brad Stevens said at Friday’s news conference. “I think that nobody can control Twitter speculation, rampant [expletive], but I do think that we as an organization have a responsibility to support them now because a lot of people were dragged unfairly into that.”

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said Udoka committed more than one violation of team policy and discipline was not being considered for any other team employees. He also said the organization didn’t leak the story Wednesday night: “Obviously, we would have nothing to do with that and nothing to gain from that.”

We could debate whether the leak helped ease the blow, letting the possibility of a suspension sink in a bit before Boston dropped the hammer. The story was going to come out, anyway. According to The Athletic, Udoka and the woman initially led management to believe that the relationship was consensual. But she recently accused the coach of making unwanted comments toward her, sparking an investigation.

Unwelcome advances by a custodian or accountant are bad enough. But they’re worse coming from execs like the head coach. The power dynamic is too unbalanced, too ripe for potential abuse and coercion. Subordinates can’t win in that position; neither can a boss they sleep with. 

Are assignments based on merit or are y’all being a couple? Are favorable reviews a byproduct of sexual favors? Can one truly advance while rejecting these advances? 

The same is true with a female boss and male underling or a gay relationship with the same office dynamic. They’re always inappropriate and have led to firings in college as well as the pros. Udoka should be grateful that he remains on staff, though his reinstatement is far from certain. 

He messed up and shoved his fiancé, Nia Long, into an unwelcome spotlight. Having the same relationship with a non-employee might’ve come to light and caused problems at home, but it wouldn’t have cost him a season for violating team policies. Udoka obviously can do well in terms of companionship (see: Long); I assume he has options for a hookup that doesn’t include a co-worker. 

Stay away from them. If that’s impossible, one of y’all needs to resign. Do it for the sake of a tangle-free relationship.

Udoka reached the Finals as a rookie coach and he’ll be fine in the long run. He apologized and learned a hard lesson, and the star, at 45, still shines, albeit a tad dimmer. The franchise won’t suffer much either. Players must adapt to a new voice in Joe Marzulla—younger than 36-yead-old forward Al Horford—but the team remains a favorite for the title.

But women employees of the Boston Celtics aren’t as fortunate. They’re subject to waves of public infamy. Whisper campaigns from people who know nothing about them and cyberbullying from trolls who care nothing about them. There’s no end in sight, either, unless an employee steps forward and fesses up.

I’m sure I’ve worked in at least one newsroom that included an inappropriate relationship. I also have multiple married friends who met and dated at work. However, anyone who breaks office rules is rolling the dice, personally and professionally. Grousbeck said the suspension includes “a very significant financial penalty.” Long asked for privacy while she processes the news.

Blame Udoka’s co-worker, too, if you like. But remember the imbalance. High-ranking officials are (supposed to be) held to higher standards of conduct. 

Udoka put everyone in this situation and bears responsibility. Whatever the co-worker said or felt doesn’t count.

, ‘Consensual’ doesn’t always matter when it comes to intimate workplace relationships

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.

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