Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lesbian Coach’s Team in Deep Doo Doo

I ran across this interesting news item from the Bangor Daily News (That’s in Maine, for you non-New Englanders). It seems that high school softball coach, Kelly Jo Cookson, was fired in 2006 by the school system. The school claims she was fired because she forced her team to walk barefoot through sheep feces at a team picnic as a hazing activity in 2005. Cookson claims she was fired because she is a lesbian and that the hazing incident was just a pretext for the real reason for her dismissal. Cookson’s lawsuit is the first one to be heard after Maine included sexual orientation as a protected category under their Human Rights Law. OK, let me take this one chunk at a time.

Anyone who reads my blog knows I am completely opposed to team hazing in all forms, especially when the coach (who should know better) is forcing the hazing on her or his team. It is bad enough when teammates do it to each other. When the coach is directly involved, it is particularly egregious. It is tough enough to opt out of hazing from older teammates. Who would want to be a party pooper (a particularly appropriate phrase in this case) when the coach is leading the hazing?

I just need to get this out of my system, ok? I’m trying to imagine how Cookson came up with this idea of forcing her team to walk barefoot through sheep doo and how she made this all happen. This was not just a spur of the moment activity (“Hey, I know! I’ll just stop by the sheep field and pick up a load of crap and have the team squish through it barefoot at the picnic this afternoon.”). Cookson had apparently been doing this for three years. That is a lot of ewe doo.

Is she a sheep farmer on the side? How did she get it to the picnic? In the back of her SUV? Where did she put it? In a child’s wading pool? On a big plastic sheet? Did she just dump it onto a field in the picnic area? Did they have the feces fest before or after they had the picnic? I mean, that would be a major appetite killer for me. I’m sure sheep poop has some bonding effects – to your feet, your clothes, your legs – but I’m sorry, Coach Cookson, I don’t get how tiptoeing through the t---field bonds me with my teammates in any effective way.

What is wrong with people? This just goes to show that lesbian coaches can be just as stupid as straight coaches can be.

OK, now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s get to the other part of this story. Cookson claims that other coaches at her school also led hazing activities on their teams and they were not punished. She was singled out. Further, Cookson had already been reprimanded by the school superintendent for hazing her team. She claims she was not fired until after it came to the attention of the new school superintendent that she was a lesbian (and after one of her team member’s parents notified the school that they intended to file a law suit over the hazing incident).

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has kicked the case back down to a lower court and made it clear that they believe Cookson may have some basis for her claims that the hazing incident was merely a pretext for firing her because of her sexual orientation. Cookson’s attorney used a sports metaphor in responding to the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision:

“While the Brewer School Committee has been high-fiving around home plate, Kelly has scored the tying run on a sacrifice squeeze and we’re going to extra innings. The game is never over until the last woman is out.”

I don’t know if Cookson was not rehired because she is a lesbian. The jury will have to determine that. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. This stuff still happens and it happens a lot more often than most people think. Lesbian coaches and athletes at the high school and college level are still dismissed from teams, not rehired, harassed, and ostracized.

I have had two conversations in the last month with women targeted by this kind of discrimination. One conversation was with a college coach who has been dismissed after being accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a player. There was no investigation, no evidence presented. Just the accusation and boom, the coach is gone. The coach denies the accusation and is seeking legal counsel to defend herself. The other conversation was with two lesbian athletes who were dismissed from a college team. Their previous coach was fine with them being out and in a relationship. Their new coach…not so much. In both cases there were charges made to cover over the real reason for the dismissal or to supplement the charges, in the case of the coach. So, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in this case, the school system is using the hazing incident as a pretext for firing a lesbian coach.

If so, I hope the school system finds itself in as deep a pile of sheep doo doo as the softball team did.

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