Bev Kearney lawsuit: The reckoning for the Texas athletic department

Erich Schlegel

The lawsuit filed by the former track coach could bring down prominent members of the Texas athletic department. And perhaps have repercussions beyond Bellmont.

It is early Saturday afternoon in Austin, Texas, and Bellmont still stands.

The anticipated Friday bombshell widely thought to have the potential to bring down the Texas athletic department never fell, despite rumors flying across Twitter all evening.

But that doesn't mean that there won't still be a reckoning, one brought about former women's track and field coach Bev Kearney, who has a pending discrimination lawsuit against the university in regards to her forced resignation and the possible double standard that exists within the Texas athletic department.

Why Kearney was dismissed

The university placed Kearney on administrative leave last November and forced her to resign in early January after she admitted to having a consensual relationship with a former student-athlete in 2002, which was reported by the former student-athlete shortly before Kearney was put on administrative leave last November.

Texas has a policy in place that discourages relationships between employees and students, but in and of itself, such a relationship is not grounds for dismissal -- the primary issue for Kearney is that she did not disclose the relationship.

At the time of her resignation, the vice president for legal affairs at Texas, Patti Ohlendorf, had some strong words about relationships between coaches and their athletes:

In intercollegiate athletics and the coaching profession, it is unprofessional and unacceptable for a head coach to carry on an intimate relationship with a student-athlete that he or she is coaching...We told Coach Kearney and Mr. Howard that such a relationship crosses the line of trust placed in the head coach for all aspects of the athletic program and the best interests of the student-athletes in the program.

In other words, the university believes that the power dynamics between a coach and an athlete are such that even a consensual relationship may have elements of coercion, as the athlete may be afraid that their standing with the team could be influenced as a result of entering into such a relationship or deciding to abstain.

Another element of the situation is that days before the former student-athlete revealed her consensual relationship with Kearney, women's athletic director Chris Plonsky had recommended a raise and long-term contract for Kearney, which has set the bar for any settlement that the school would reach with its former women's track and field coach.

And, of course, there is the problem of possible discrimination against Kearney by the university since she is not only African-American, but also lesbian. Those two factors provide some significant ammunition for Kearney and her lawyers.

Lack of foresight

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to say that Texas should have been more careful with their termination of Bev Kearney, especially with the looming specter of whatever bombshell Kearney and her attorneys can assemble to drop on Bellmont.

The problem is that athletic director DeLoss Dodds knew about Major Applewhite. He knew about Cleve Bryant and his actions. Whatever else is out there, he should have known about that, too -- that's part of his job description.

And he should have been able to take the next logical step and seen that Kearney would not go gentle into the good night, but rather fight for her rights and against what she would perceive as an injustice. What may in fact be injustice.

Perhaps a severance agreement would have aided that process, though it's hard to say how the legal department at the university would have felt about such a move and the precedent that it would set of paying off employees engaged in what they deem fireable offenses.

The point is that if Dodds and company didn't see all of this coming when they made the decision to pursue the termination of Bev Kearney, well, they certainly should have, and may pay the ultimate cost for that miscalculation, depending on what emerges.

A wide-ranging hunt

Derek A. Howard, the attorney for Kearney, has filed FOIA requests not only for the athletic department, but possibly for other employees of the university as well.

While on the surface this would seem to be a case that involves deep investigations into the personal conduct of those employed by the athletic department, Howard seems intent on making it stretch beyond Bellmont. In an interview with ESPNW, Kearney's attorney mentioned that he believes some Texas faculty may not have been held to the same standard.

This is a hunt to not only uncover every incident of sexual misconduct in the athletic department, but also within the entire university.

At a school as big as Texas, they are bound to find something.

The Major Applewhite situation

In early February, the news broke of an inappropriate encounter between Major Applewhite and a student trainer while at the Fiesta Bowl in 2009. After the incident, Applewhite went through the proper channels to notify athletic director DeLoss Dodds of his poor decision and had his pay frozen as a result.

The other difference, one that may have also been important in the eyes of the university? Applewhite's relationship didn't occur with an athlete directly under his supervision, but rather a member of the football support staff. A small difference, no doubt, but perhaps a significant one.

So even though the news about Applewhite has come to light, it hasn't resulted in a dismissal from the university and may not be a significant bullet in the Kearney arsenal.

Ol Freak Nasty

The more significant issue than Applewhite, outside of whatever other poor choices members of the Texas athletic department may have made in regards to their personal conduct, is the story of former associate athletics director Cleve Bryant.

Bryant, as many may recall, was man that Mack Brown used to tell people no. One of Brown's closest confidants for years and the man who was involved in many of the day-to-day logistics involved in running the football program, Bryant also appeared to have had his own significant appetites.

He was fired in March of 2011 because of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former employee of the athletic department who alleged that he had made repeated unwanted sexual advancements towards her.

The case settled out of court for $400k.

As bad as that is on the surface, the issue as it pertains to the current situation is that Bryant had managed to earn the nickname around the office of "Ol Freak Nasty," suggesting that his behavior with the former staffer was not his only transgression. In fact, two other members members of the athletic department said that they had been kissed by Bryant.

Bryant appealed his firing, but a public legal battle that like now being waged by Kearney never ensued.

The athletic department knew about his behavior and covered it up or looked the other way for some time. It's difficult to say whether the school would consider Bryant's actions similar to those of Kearney in terms of the power dynamics of the associate athletic director and athletic department staffers, but it's hard to see as much of a difference between Bryant's situation and Kearney as there was with Applewhite.

Rick Perry and the Board of Regents

For those who have been following the ongoing battle between Texas governor Rick Perry and his appointments to the Board of Regents and president Bill Powers, the battleground is the University of Texas and, to provide a gross overview, academic standards moving forward, with the end result being that Powers is currently squarely in the targets of Perry and his cronies.

How does this relate to the Bev Kearney situation, which would seem entirely divorced?

One of the major questions at this point is why there hasn't been a settlement reached between the university and Kearney. It would seem to be that the easiest way to make all of this go away would be to simply pay off Kearney and make her go away before her attorneys discover all the skeletons buried in athletic department closets. And those around the rest of the university.

Orangebloods seems to have the answer ($).

The reckoning

The nature of the Friday rumors suggests that the Kearney team may have uncovered some other instances of sexual misconduct in the Texas athletics department, if not beyond into the rest of the university as well.

These are the unknown skeletons in the closet that could go a long way towards establishing the pattern of behavior in the athletic department of ignoring sexual misconduct that Kearney and her lawyers have now been spending some time attempting to unearth.

These are also most likely the incidents that stand to cause the most damage to the athletic department and could end up resulting in the termination or resignation of other figures beyond DeLoss Dodds and possibly Chris Plonsky.

These unknown incidents are the ones that are particularly scary for Texas fans to consider.

If there is to be a Judgement Day for the Texas athletic department, perhaps it is better that all the rot in Bellmont emerges into the light of day, that the reckoning happens completely and totally, and disinfectant liberally applied to any and all untoward surfaces there.

It certainly seems as if Kearney and company will make every effort towards that end, with little support forthcoming from the Board of Regents in terms of a large settlement that would sweep all of this away.

Yes, it does appear there will be a reckoning. And not a pleasant one, at that.

Now we wait.

****

A few notes:

-- While this post necessarily veered into the realm of politics, this is not, has never been, and never will be a forum for the discussion of politics. Please refrain from them as much as possible when commenting.

-- Let's keep this as civil and reasonable as possible or the comments will be closed. If you have something to say, turn your brain on and think about your comment for a minute or two before hitting that post button. Thank you.

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