Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not nearly good enough

As I suspected would happen, UNC settled the sexual harassment and Title IX suit brought against Anson Dorrance, head coach of the women's soccer team, by former player Melissa Jennings.

The more I think about this situation, the more pissed off I get.

First, the settlement was paltry--especially in light of the huge Title IX verdicts and settlements we saw in 2007 (Fresno State and University of Colorado most notably). Most of the $385,000 will go towards lawyers' fees. It's not all about the money, I know. But I think the sum sends a message about how seriously sexual harassment is taken in our country--in other words, not very seriously. I hear this fact, I know the history, but this case makes it all the more obvious. I have been fortunate enough never to be sexually harassed but how I have been so lucky is a wonder given how ubiquitous the practice is; how many people, people I know, have been subject to sexual harassment. And, of course, like Anson Dorrance, the offender is rarely punished. Dorrance, at least, was reported; most offenders are not.

Second, the settlement saved UNC from further (if there even was any) tarnish on their reputation. What made a huge difference in the cases at Fresno State, especially that of former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas, was the testimony of what was happening--for years--in those often very insular athletic departments. Fresno State's case suffered when so many examples of sexist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive behavior were stated out loud for the public record. I wanted everyone to hear about how Dorrance kicked soccer balls in the asses of his players. I wanted everyone to hear about the questions he asked his athletes about their sex lives. I wanted people to see that what constitutes a good coach should not be a win-loss record.

But most of all, I wanted him to lose his job. He apologized for his behavior; an apology, despite what any settlement says, is an admittance of wrongdoing. How can it possibly be acceptable that a man who has fantasized aloud about his sexual fantasies for his players be allowed to continue to coach?

But he won't lose his job; in fact, he will receive no punishment from the university. In a press release the university unequivocally supported him and highlighted his contributions. Why? The man has won numerous NCAA titles and has produced a myriad of Olympians including the most famous soccer player in the world, Mia Hamm. (I am quite disappointed that so many of his former players have remained mum on this issue.)

I am still perplexed that Jennings settled for so little--not just money but justice in general. It's possible she thought his strong professional reputation would blind a jury. The university, in the press release, mentioned that former players were ready to testify on his behalf but that they didn't want to have to subject them to that. (Not so concerned, were they, with what Jennings went through or subjecting her to reliving the hostile environment Dorrance created?) Or maybe she was just tired and ready to move on after this decade-long fight. Both understandable reasons. But I thought the evidence and the precedent set by other recent cases were in her favor.

Now this is just another sexual harassment case settled with relatively little fanfare, that will just fade from the collective memory.

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