Hornets never should have picked McDaniels, who is being sued over secret sex videos

The Charlotte Hornets should never have drafted Jalen McDaniels in the second round of the NBA draft.

I don’t mean the 6-10 forward was picked too high or too low on Thursday night. I mean that the Hornets should have never waded into the McDaniels mess at all, instead staying far away from a player who has been sued by two former female high school classmates in Washington state. Each of the women claim in separate lawsuits that, in 2016, McDaniels secretly recorded them without their consent while they were performing sexual acts.

Before you downplay what he did, before you tell me McDaniels was 17 at the time and that everyone does stupid stuff as a teenager, let me ask you this: What if one of these young women had been your daughter? Would you still be cool with the Hornets’ decision?

Drafting McDaniels sends a message to the Hornets’ fans, particularly to the women and girls who support the team, and it’s not a pretty one. It says that the Hornets are willing to take a chance on a player who has admitted in court documents to both the videotaping and to then sharing the sex videos with a “small group of close friends” before deleting them.

McDaniels hid in the closet to tape a teammate having sex with one of the women, according to the court documents.

In the other tape, he was involved in a consensual sexual act with a woman and videotaped it without her knowledge, according to the documents. The size of the viewing audience for that footage remains in dispute. The victim says in her complaint that fellow students told her that McDaniels had “widely circulated” the video of the sex acts between him and her.

The Hornets haven’t explained why they decided to select a player with such obvious red flags. On draft night, when Charlotte picked McDaniels out of San Diego State with the No. 52 overall pick, general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters this: “Quite frankly it’s a legal matter, and I’m not prepared to comment on it. But we’ve been aware of it for months. Really, that’s about all I can say about it.”

The Observer has since given the Hornets several more opportunities to explain their reasoning. The team has decided to make no comment beyond a prepared statement that read: “We are aware of the civil lawsuit involving Jalen McDaniels and are monitoring developments in the case. As this is a pending legal matter, it is inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

I would argue that it’s very appropriate for the Hornets to comment. They don’t need to talk specifics about what McDaniels did and didn’t do. But I do believe they owe their fans an explanation as to why this team — owned by Michael Jordan, well-established with its community service, attempting to recapture the Hornets’ local relevance of 25-30 years ago — would ever choose him in the first place.

Jalen McDaniels, now a second-round draft pick of the Charlotte Hornets, goes up for a dunk while playing for San Diego State in 2018. Hayne Palmour IV San Diego Union-Tribune file photo via TNS

It is important to note that no criminal charges were ever filed against McDaniels. In a report by the Seattle Times, prosecutors in King County, Wash., said police failed to find “sexual motivation” by McDaniels in the incidents, which is an essential part of proving criminal voyeurism.

But the young women’s lives have been damaged for years, their lawsuits say. Since the videos were seen by others, the women were victims of “slut-shaming,” they say in the complaints. They both attempted suicide, and each of those unsuccessful attempts was directly related to McDaniels’ videos, according to their attorney.

Exasperated fan base

Angelo Calfo is a Seattle-based attorney and one of McDaniels’ lawyers. He told the Observer last week that his client “regrets what occurred and any harm these two young women experienced.”

“Jalen was a minor in high school at the time. He has never done anything like this before or has he since,” Calfo said. “He looks forward to resolving these civil lawsuits so he and the two young women can move forward.”

You see what I mean about messiness?

The Hornets knew what they were getting into here. And let’s not forget the Hornets’ fans are already exasperated with the team, after three straight losing seasons and the “no-easy-way-out” conundrum that is Kemba Walker’s impending free agency. So the Hornets had to know that drafting McDaniels would invoke even more criticism of a franchise that has been stuck in quicksand for years.

And yet they still picked McDaniels, despite what he did and the two women who were affected. (The Observer does not identify the alleged victims of sexual assault or misconduct).

Should McDaniels be barred from the NBA forever because of this? No, of course not. He isn’t serving criminal time. He hasn’t been convicted of anything, and lawsuits tell only one side of a story (although McDaniels doesn’t deny making or sharing the videos). We are a long way from Rae Carruth territory here. McDaniels has the right to earn a living doing what he does best.

Jalen McDaniels, center, celebrates with high school teammates. McDaniels went to high school in Washington state, and it was there he secretly recorded two female classmates performing sexual acts without their consent, according to court documents. Ted S. Warren AP file photo

But I’m still disappointed the Hornets chose him. I don’t like the symbolism. I have a 12-year-old daughter of my own, as well as a son almost exactly McDaniels’ age. I get that we all live in a different world now than when I grew up and we didn’t carry cameras in our pocket as teenagers. But nevertheless, right vs. wrong hasn’t changed.

Making the roster

Will McDaniels ever actually play for the Hornets? Well, he will be on their summer league team that plays a series of games in July in Las Vegas, along with the team’s two other drafted rookies. Summer-league practice begins next week in Charlotte, which will also be the first time McDaniels likely addresses the Charlotte media (the team made its other two draft picks available to answer reporters’ questions already, but it hasn’t done so with McDaniels).

McDaniels is only about a 50-50 shot to make the Hornets’ final roster. In this day and age, second-round draft picks have a hard time making an NBA squad with all of its guaranteed contracts.

Hornets second-round pick Jalen McDaniels won a high school championship in 2015 when he played at Federal Way, just outside Tacoma, Wash. It was there he secretly recorded two female classmates performing sexual acts without their consent, according to court documents. Ted S. Warren AP file photo

So it’s quite possible that McDaniels will never actually play a real minute for the Hornets. But the team has already made the determination that he’s worth both the risk and the accompanying dent to the franchise’s reputation.

I’ve been around professional athletes for a long time, and I’m not naïve enough to believe that there is a pro locker room anywhere in the world full of choirboys. Charlotte sports teams have logged plenty of experience at the intersection of the judicial system and the sports world.

But picking McDaniels feels mercenary to me. It seems like the Hornets talked themselves into ignoring the secret sex videos because McDaniels might one day turn out to be a good NBA player. And that makes me feel sick.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.