Thursday, September 25, 2008

Trouble Brewing at SMU

A former basketball player at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has filed a lawsuit against the school and head women’s basketball coach, Rhonda Rompola. Jennifer Colli alleges that Rompola revoked her scholarship in retaliation because Colli complained to the athletic director that Rompola was asking questions about her sexual orientation and about the sexual orientation of other players on the team. An SMU internal investigation found that Colli’s accusations were unfounded.

The article goes on to report on other allegations included in the lawsuit. According to Colli, Rompola told the team she “did not approve” of gay relationships on the team. Colli, who acknowledges that she was in a relationship with another player on the team, says that there were also relationships among other players and also past relationships among coaches. Four of Colli’s teammates and her sister have signed statements supporting Colli’s allegations and claiming that Rompola herself was involved in a past “long term” relationship with a female assistant coach. Last year Rompola married Mike Dement who is the head men’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, where he lives.

Colli also alleges in the lawsuit that interest in her expressed by other coaches at schools where she hoped to transfer evaporated after those coaches talked to Rompola, prematurely ending her basketball career.

I have no idea what the facts are in this case. However, if Colli’s allegations are true, it is yet another example of why it is so important for schools to educate coaches and athletic administrators about discrimination based on sexual orientation in athletics and about responsible and fair policy decisions about relationships among teammates, whether that team is only men, only women or both men and women.

That the allegations in this case include the contention that Rompola has also been involved in same-sex relationships point up the damaging effects of internalized homophobia. Again, I know nothing about the facts in this case, but by turning her own fear on her players who are lesbian or bi, a lesbian coach buys into the belief that lesbian athletes are the problem, not homophobia. As more young lesbian and gay athletes are comfortable with their sexuality and have a sense of entitlement to fair treatment, the gulf widens between them and their coaches, regardless of the coach’s sexual orientation. Unless coaches educate themselves, they risk being on the receiving end of a discrimination lawsuit.

The tragic part of this lawsuit is that it will be read by some schools as justification for avoiding lesbians coaches and athletes or going on a witch hunt against lesbian coaches and athletes as a way to prevent being caught in the legal and public relations nightmare into which SMU is now descending. Ironically, many of these same schools continue to hire, recruit and defend male coaches and athletes who are charged with rape, drug offenses, other felonies as well as NCAA violations as long as they are contributing to the win column. While these offenses are tolerated, all a lesbian coach or athlete needs to do is get caught being who she is and having the nerve to demand respect and fairness.

It would make so much more sense to educate athletic staff about effective, fair policies that are not based on discrimination or fear. I invite readers to check out resources we have on the It Takes A Team web site that address these issues and provide policies recommendations for athletic administrators and coaches.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to see the University's proof that they investigated the complaints and exactly what they found. I expect that the court case will go in Colli's favor and that SMU swept it all under the rug. I've seen it all before (thankfully, quite a long time ago) but it still makes me sick. Go get 'em, Colli.

Unknown said...

Great article!

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