VCU "Sports" Discrimination
When it comes to sportsmanship, Virginia Commonwealth University is getting it wrong.
My mama and daddy taught me long ago: Good sportsmanship is something you do all the time. Fair play is always the right way to go. Win, lose, or draw, be fair and generous to all. That’s the code of conduct that is always right.
But that surely does not seem to be the code in use by Ed McLaughlin, the university’s athletic director. Without any notice, he refused to renew the contract of James Finley, eight-year veteran coach of women’s volleyball whose team just posted a 25 wins, 6 losses record. And that was on top of moving the team from a tier 3 to a tier 2 league. And the entire team turned in solid academic performances.
Why then? A press statement from the University says, in part, “Our program needs a different direction and different leadership to attain our goals of achieving at an elite level nationally.” Sounds like what Finley (pictured right) is already doing.
And, oh yes, according to a member of the team, McLaughlin told them, “We want someone to better represent the school.”
Ouch. Heard that one before. It’s usually code for getting rid of someone who reminds us of something we don’t want to remember.
Blacks heard it. Latino/a people heard it. Still do.
Women heard it. Still do.
Gay and lesbian and transgender folk heard it. Still do.
Did I mention that James Finley is gay? And open about it, proud of his marriage to John Sternlicht and his participation in efforts to insure that VCU is open and affirming to all, proud to be a role model and support for LGBT athletes at the school.
Not sure what sexual orientation has to do with coaching women’s volleyball, but it seems like McLaughlin believes it disqualifies Finley from his job. Surely it is not his performance, which has not been questioned. Surely it is not the team record, which is simply outstanding. The story is already gaining national attention. And it's not the first instance of discrimination in the VCU Athletic department.
Finley’s termination comes on the heels of a demotion of another “out” person in the Athletic Department. About two months ago, McLaughlin stripped Patricia Stauffer, the senior women’s administrator in the department, of her title.
Is this a trend? I can say this: if I were an L, G, B, or T person on the staff in McLaughlin’s department, I’d keep it to myself . . . if I want to keep my job.
Ouch. That hurts. VCU President Michael Rao and others say VCU is an inclusive place. And increasingly it has that reputation. But in this department, its sure feels like things are going back to the old days. Maybe McLaughlin wants to bring back Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?
What about it, President Rao? Will you step up here, and tell McLaughlin to bring back James Finley? Can we at least hear that you have ordered a complete, thorough investigation, and that you expect a report in a few days, or at least by a date certain in the near future?
and others, and that is good. I am writing President Rao.
In a big school like VCU, the Athletic Director is a major figure, with a major impact on how the institution is perceived in the public eye. That means the president is involved. That’s what presidents do—they deal with the stuff that needs clear direction and that impacts the institution among its various constituencies.
We can help him get it done.
Ask him to continue leading this great institution away from old-fashioned prejudice and into the bright new day of openness and inclusion.
Tell him you’re a person of faith, and that you know where God is in all this: on the side of justice and inclusion, not to mention good sportsmanship.
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