Tuesday, January 22, 2008

At UNC, Sexual Harassment Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Last week, after 10 years, the second sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the highly successful University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach, Anson Dorrance, was settled. Both lawsuits were filed by former players on the women’s soccer team, Debbie Keller and Melissa Jennings. Keller settled out of court in 2004.

The players charged that Dorrance repeatedly initiated discussions and asked questions about the players’ sex lives. At first, Dorrance denied the charges. Then, apparently after the charges were corroborated by witnesses, he described his comments to the players as ‘locker room banter of a joking or jesting nature.” However, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last spring that the charges did constitute sexual harassment and could proceed to trial.

Dorrance finally described his actions as “inappropriate and unacceptable” in a public letter of apology which was required as part of the settlement. To summarize: First, he denied making the comments, then he trivialized the comments as locker room banter, finally he apologized and called his comments inappropriate and unacceptable.

In his apology letter, Dorrance acknowledged that between August 1996 and June 1998, he participated with his players in group discussions of team members’ sexual activities and relationships with men (now there’s a coaching technique he left out of his video).

Then in classic non-apology style, Dorrance said in response to the settlement, "Since August 1998, I have looked forward to clearing my name in court. That is still true today. I understand, though, that after nine years of litigation, it is best for the University, our soccer program and all of us involved in this case for it to end here."

How magnanimous of him! He is only doing what is best for the university and his soccer program and even the women who brought the lawsuit by apologizing! Though he had looked forward to clearing his name, he is letting that go so everyone will benefit. What a guy!

Wait a minute. How can he clear his name when he admits that the charges are true? Oh, never mind.

Isn’t it amazing how an apology can turn around so that it isn’t really an apology at all?

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser called Dorrance, “a great teacher and leader in advancing women’s opportunities in sports.” He continued, "We have never believed that the case had any merit. We’ve stood by Coach Dorrance since this case started and we stand by him now." So much for student-athlete welfare concerns. So much for taking sexual harassment charges seriously.

Clearly the university believed that Dorrance was the victim here and the two players were the perpetrators. If it weren’t for a required review of the university’s sexual harassment policies by an outside lawyer as part of the settlement, it seems like the university would be happy to move on as if nothing happened. Anson Dorrance is their guy and that’s the end of that.

Since this is an LGBT Sports blog, I have to say that I find it very difficult to imagine a university standing up for a lesbian or gay coach who made sexual comments to players. I even find it hard to believe a straight woman coach making these kinds of comments would be supported.

In the spirit of Coach Dorrance’s apology: I’m sorry if anyone is offended by anything I said in this blog post.

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