Discrimination and Assault Lawsuit Against UConn Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma

[Content note: emotional abuse, assault, rape]

It’s amazing what you don’t hear about in the news, right?

From AP via Yahoo:

Kelley Hardwick sued in state court in Manhattan in June, alleging she was removed from the security detail of the USA women’s basketball team at the London Olympics last year because she spurned sexual advances from Auriemma during a 2009 national team trip to Russia. Auriemma, who coached the Olympic team to the gold medal, denied the allegations.

Hardwick, the NBA’s director of security and a former New York police detective, said league officials removed her from the detail after Auriemma, in retaliation for her rejecting his advances, told a USA Basketball official that he didn’t want Hardwick to provide security for the team. The national team official then told Hardwick’s supervisor at the NBA and she was reassigned, her lawsuit said.

After filing the lawsuit, Hardwick said she was reinstated to the national team’s security detail but with significantly reduced responsibilities. After being reinstated, she said Auriemma screamed at her in front of the team, prompting the civil assault charge, court documents say.

Auriemma, of course, denies wrongdoing.

A NY judge tossed the lawsuit today because he says it didn’t occur in New York. Hardwick is appealing because the company for which she worked  – the NBA – is located in New York and so, therefore, is the job that Auriemma threatened, even if the incident took place outside the geographical boundaries of the state.

A close up of Kelley Hardwick's face. She is looking directly into the camera, the image behind her is blurry. She has very short, bright blonde hair. She is not smiling, her mouth is neutral. She has two small stud earrings in.

Kelley Hardwick

Kelley Hardwick is a black woman who works in a profession – security – often dominated by men. She has come up against a powerful white man who has made his name in a sport where he is often surrounded by and in charge of lots of women (both players and assistant coachers, trainers, etc.). Black women are often discriminated against whenever there are channels through which power can be exerted over them professionally: see, for instance, the way in which Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell disproportionately was used against black women to force their resignations and dishonorable discharges from the service. Black women are also, historically, painted in our culture as being sexually promiscuous (and when I say “historically,” I mean having roots in the oppressive slave system upon which this country was built – it’s easier to justify raping enslaved women when you have assured yourself that they wanted it). This is not a context we can throw aside and certainly one we shouldn’t ignore when it comes to the power dynamics in this lawsuit.

But this is also about Auriemma himself. I find him a hard figure to wrap my mind around. He has a done a lot for women’s basketball, creating an amazing dynasty at UConn and making a sport that is often forgotten or maligned in other parts of the country a constant sellout in Connecticut.

But he seems like such an asshole.

Pat Jordan at Deadspin wrote a long piece about Auriemma a year ago. Here is a chunk that matters for this post:

When a female UConn student reporter at a news conference asked Geno a question that he didn’t like, he writes about how he berated her in front of veteran reporters. He said: “[T]hat really pisses me off. You’re too young to ask those kinds of questions.” […]

He harassed another player, point guard Sue Bird, a cool, controlled customer, until finally she broke down and cried. “I’m ecstatic,” he wrote. “My players pay for the scars of my past.” He justifies his behavior, writing, “I only pick on people I care about.”

What happens when people pick on him, when reporters write things about him that he doesn’t like? He told me, “If they don’t behave I cut them out. [In this way] I can control the local press.”

Coming on the heels of of Mike Rice’s firing at Rutgers, it’s hard not to look at a coach like Auriemma and wonder how often he slips past the thin, wavering line that separates abuse from motivation. As T. F. Charlton recently wrote at Salon,

Still, the collective reaction of disbelief — that a coach could be so abusive, that a university could sweep it under the rug, that players didn’t retaliate or walk away — is a curious one. It sits uneasily with the reality that verbal, emotional and even physical abuse of players by coaches are commonplace behaviors, widely accepted and often encouraged in sports cultures and in American culture more broadly. Further, it overlooks the fact that players are taught to accept such behavior as a necessary part of coaching, done for their benefit and edification, and discouraged from challenging team “discipline” or authority.

Auriemma is on the left in a suit. He is talking at Maya Moore, who is standing to the right with her UConn outfit on. She is not looking at him. He is pointing at the ground and clearly displeased. You can tell they are in an arena and all the seats behind them are filled.

Geno Auriemma talking/yelling(?) at Maya Moore on sidelines of a UConn basketball game.

Charlton goes on to say, “A culture that accepts, expects and encourages adults in positions of power to use a certain level of abuse to “motivate” players enables coaches whose abuses go far beyond what’s considered “normal.””

Auriemma spends his life running an incredibly successful basketball program inside of a sport that has a long history of ignoring, even condoning near-abusive and abusive behavior between a coach and their players. Auriemma happens to be a man coaching women. It isn’t hard to see how he could shift the power he feels over his players to power he tries to exert over other women in his life. And it is most definitely not hard to believe that he would try to use his influence to cover up that behavior when it is challenged.

I’m not saying that Auriemma discriminated against Hardwick or assaulted her. But I do tend to always side with women who say they have been victimized because our culture conditions us to find them untrustworthy, which is especially true when the perpetrator is someone we are supposed to hold in some regard.

What I am saying is that when I read the description of Hardwick’s lawsuit against Auriemma, no part of me was surprised.

Auriemma is a proud man who has no problem yelling down female players (or college reporters, it seems) when necessary. Context matters here and for Auriemma, we have years of it.

What would surprise me is if Auriemma loses and Hardwick is supported by the justice system. There is nothing here to suggest that will happen. Not the race or gender of Hardwick and Auriemma. Not the culture around sports that often places people up on pedestals no matter what evidence they provide to show us why they shouldn’t be up there. Not the sports media that barely even thinks this is a story worth reporting.

I’ll be keeping an eye out, though, to see where this goes.