In a follow up to my July 29 blog on this, IUPUI has fired women’s basketball coach, Shann Hart “without cause.” This means that they do not plan to make public the reasons for the coach’s dismissal. Hart will also receive the balance of her contract through 2013 - $300,000. The allegations against Hart, all of which she denies, included a range of outrageous behavior including snooping into the personal sex lives of her athletes to identify lesbians on her team. The climate of fear resulting from the coach’s behavior was the cause for 29 players and assistant coaches leaving the program over the last four years. After the players’ allegations were made public in July, former players at American University where Hart previously coached also came forward with similar allegations of abuse. Hart has not commented publicly on her dismissal yet.
An important object lesson is lost because IUPUI is not making the results of their investigation and the cause for Hart’s dismissal public and because Hart will still get her salary, which is quite a lot of money. Outrageous behavior by coaches, both men and women, has been tolerated in college and high school athletics for far too long. Psychological and physical abuse of athletes by coaches who lead with fear and intimidation is not acceptable in any context, especially one that is affiliated with an educational institution. We need schools to stand up and be specific about reasons for dismissal when questions of abusive and discriminatory behavior are involved rather than leave the reasons for a coach’s dismissal unknown. Firing a coach accused of abusive behavior “without cause” rather than making the reasons public sends an ambiguous message. What was she fired for then? Why aren’t they making the reasons for her dismissal public?
Open discrimination against women athletes because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, which is part of the allegations against Hart, has also been tolerated or ignored by school leaders. I had hoped that after the very public lawsuit against Rene Portland at Penn State, that other coaches and administrators would have gotten the message that there are serious consequences to anti-gay discrimination in college athletics. Unfortunately, this situation is a reminder that there are still coaches who believe that fear, abusive treatment and discriminatory practices are acceptable coaching behaviors. I hope they are reading the newspapers today.