Sports

High School Coaches Bullying Gay Athletes

| by Pat Griffin

On December 22 I briefly noted a lawsuit in Kilgore, TX in which the mother of a lesbian high school softball player (identified as S.W. in the lawsuit) is suing the Kilgore Independent School District, the athletic director, the head softball coach and the assistant softball coach for violating her daughter’s privacy by revealing her sexual orientation to her. Believe me, that’s just the start of the problems in the Kilgore school district.

Here is what the lawsuit alleges: Somehow the two coaches found out that S.W. was dating another girl. They also believed that the S.W. was telling other students that the head softball coach, Cassie Newell, had dated the same 18 year old girl that S.W. was.

The two coaches called a fake team meeting (Serious judgment error 1). When the team arrived, everyone was dismissed except S.W. who was locked in the locker room with the two coaches (Serious judgment error 2). The two coaches proceeded to bully, interrogate and threaten S.W. (Serious judgment error 3). They accused her of being a lesbian (as if it is any of their business and as if there is something wrong with that). They confronted her about gossiping about her girlfriend being involved with the Newell, the head coach, which S.W. denied. They threatened to sue her for slander. They called S.W.’s mother and told her to come to the softball field (serious judgment error 4) where the two coaches and S.W. met her and the coaches told the mother that S.W. is a lesbian (major serious judgment error 5). S.W. was subsequently kicked off the softball team (Serious judgment error 6 and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation).

Her mother contacted the school principal and athletic director and went through the school grievance process but the coaches’ actions were backed up by the school administrators at every step (Unexplainable decision to support serious judgment errors 1-6 and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation). So, now the Kilgore school district, the coaches and the athletic director are facing a lawsuit.

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Among the serious questions this situation raises is how administrators can possibly come to the position that it is acceptable school policy to violate a student’s privacy by outing her to her mother when there is no rationale for this decision other than to create possible problems for the student? Likewise, how can they decide to support educators (and I use the term loosely in this case) who engage in intimidating and threatening behavior that rivals any student-initiated psychological bullying I know of. It was probably worse since it was coming from adults that S.W. probably respected and trusted. As I have said before, what is it that leads some high school and college coaches to believe that they are somehow exempt from standards of conduct with students that we expect of other educators? This is another example of coaches abusing power and seriously damaging a student’s well-being, not to mention her opportunity to enjoy sports.

This kind of treatment cannot be justified under any circumstances that I can think of. It is reprehensible and the injury is compounded by the school district’s support of the coaches’ behavior. If I had a child in the Kilgore School District, I would be seriously worried about the safety of my child if adults in that school are entitled to treat students like this. I don’t know or care if coach Newell is gay. Her actions in this situation, if accurately described in the lawsuit, make her unfit to work with young people, in my opinion. That Kilgore Independent School District supports her is equally indefensible.

Some schools and coaches have to learn about respect and fairness the hard way. Being enmeshed in an ugly lawsuit is a tough way to learn, but thankfully, legal advocacy groups are available in Texas to make sure that they do.