Former Illini Women’s Basketball Players File $10 Million Federal Suit

Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune, July 1, 2015

The embattled University of Illinois athletic department took another hit Wednesday when seven former Illini women’s basketball players filed a $10 million federal lawsuit alleging that coach Matt Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment.

The suit also names athletic director Mike Thomas for not addressing their contentions.

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Former basketball players Amarah Coleman, Alexis Smith, Taylor Tuck, Nia Oden, Sarah Livingston, Taylor Gleason and Jacqui Grant filed the suit Wednesday in federal court in Urbana, and in it they allege the university violated the Civil Rights Act.

The suit alleges ongoing racial stereotyping and derogatory statements.

In preparation for games, the suit alleges, the coaches would ask black players about their thoughts only on black opponents, “implying that blacks think differently than whites.” Black players, including those for the Illini, were described as “West Side ghetto” and playing “street ball,” the suit claims.

The coaches referred to opposing teams that were predominantly black as “undisciplined and unintelligent” while describing white opponents as “disciplined and intelligent,” the suit alleges.

The suit alleges that since their hiring in 2012, coaches purposely “reconstituted the roster” through recruiting to increase the number of white players and decrease the number of black players.

The lawsuit includes a litany of other allegations against the coaches, including these:

•Coaches conducted segregated practices and arranged segregated travel accommodations, “prohibiting white players from rooming with black players.”

•They used more severe discipline for black players than white players.

•They called black players Oden, Smith and Tuck “toxic” and “crabs,” describing them as dragging each other down much like crabs trying to crawl out of a bucket.

•They put black players in the “dog pound” as punishment, which the suit said indirectly labeled them as dogs. And they relegated white players who supported black players to the “dog pound” and called them “mascots.”

The suit also states that the coaches “publicly or privately” addressed several players “during games, practices and/or in meetings in such a manner that was designed and/or intended to embarrass, denigrate, demoralize and/or demean” players “in front of others and to discourage (them) from continuing to participate in the program and team.”

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Coleman, Smith, Tuck, Oden and Livingston are African-American. Gleason and Grant are white.

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The treatment, the suit claims, was designed to compel players to quit the team or transfer. The defendants were all in position to address the “racially hostile environment,” but the suit claims that Bollant and Thomas were “indifferent.”

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