Whispers and rumors began to surround University of Texas’s women’s head track and field coach, Beverly Kearney in November when she was placed on administrative leave. Many questioned what the most successful coach in the UT women's athletic department could have possibly done. Since taking over the Texas program in 1993, Kearney has led the Longhorns to six NCAA National Championships and 20 league titles and was up for a significant pay raise. She was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and is a member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
As a standout student-athlete, Kearney was also an inspirational NCAA figure. She had an impoverished childhood and she lost her mother at age 17, yet still managed to garner a college scholarship. At Hillsborough Community College, Kearney earned National Junior College All-America honors before moving to Auburn University where she claimed two AIAW All-America honors and was selected the Auburn Athlete of the Year. In 1980, Kearney qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200m before closing out her career at Auburn in 1981 and earning a bachelor's degree in social work.
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En route to DIsney World in 2002 Kearney survived a devastating car accident that killed two friends. She was in the passenger seat and thrown 50 feet from the vehicle. When paramedics found her on the pavement, she was barely breathing. Her spinal cord was badly injured, her skull fractured, and she had multiple bruises and contusions. Doctors told Kearney that she would never walk again. Over the next month, she went through three major surgeries and within a year she defied doctors and was out of her wheelchair.
So what did this beloved and highly respected coach do to warrant the administrative leave and subsequent resignation? According to CNN Kearney decided to step down after UT officials began an investigation into a claim by a former athlete about an affair that happened over ten years ago. Kearney stated that the relationship was consensual and the student athlete was an adult. Yet, at UT it is an accepted guideline that a coach should not have a relationship with a student athlete that they are coaching and it is grounds for dismissal. Kearney is not denying she had the relationship, nor is she trying to justify it.
In an exclusive interview with Austin's the American-Statesman Kearney's attorney said “We believe that Ms. Kearney has been subjected to a double standard and has received far harsher punishment than that being given to her male counter-parts who have engaged in similar conduct.” The argument that Kearney and her lawyer are making is that the punishment is too harsh especially since it was a one time occurrence. Others are arguing that the same punishment would not have been enforced if she was a male, straight and white.
But does it matter how others are punished? Kearney broke a rule and it eventually came to light. UT sought to dismiss her for the rule breaking. I tend to agree with UT that a relationship between a head coach and athlete is unacceptable. A relationship where one of the participants is in charge of playing time, scholarship money and training is unequal and puts pressure on the athlete to do what the coach wants. It is also unfair to the rest of the team for surely the athlete in the relationship will get special consideration and privileges. It is just not a good idea to engage in a relationship with an athlete. In any role, it is a really bad idea to engage in a relationship with someone who is subordinate to you.
When I was a college athlete, I had two coaches that were fairly young and one was single. We all knew it was a taboo to even think about a relationship with a coach. We even knew never to be alone with our single coach, not that we didn't trust him but we did not want there to be any whispers that anything could be going on. It is hard enough when a coach plays favorites but adding a relationship to the mix would be unfair to the team. Athletes are constantly looking for affirmation of a job well done and a coach-athlete relationship seems to take advantage of that. Even more, I imagine it would totally wreck the team dynamic.
So did Kearney do wrong? In my opinion, yes she did. The relationship was against the guidelines and common sense. Maybe I am not seeing the grey area but even Kearney has admited it was irresponsible and in poor judgement. If I was one of her athletes, I would be upset. If she was male, straight and white, I would want to see the same punishment. In the end, she will have to face the consequences of her actions.
Though Kearney is not the biggest scandal happening in Austin right now (Lance Armstong anyone?), the University and fans of the UT track team do feel let down and a little confused. We are all waiting for the rest of the story.
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