University of Illinois basketball probe finds racism claims unfounded

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 03, 2015 1:57 PM

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - An outside investigation determined allegations by former University of Illinois women's basketball players claiming the head coach and a former assistant created a racially hostile environment are unfounded, the school said on Monday.

Seven former players from the team on July 1 filed a federal lawsuit that accused head coach Matt Bollant and his former assistant Mike Divilbiss of violating their civil rights. They sought $10 million in damages.

The law firm of Pugh, Jones & Johnson, conducted 33 interviews, reviewed more than 18,000 documents and looked at game and practice footage in its probe of the allegations, the school said in a statement.

"We find any allegations troubling, because they don't reflect our values," Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in a statement. "Student-athletes are part of our Illinois family, and we want to ensure that their experiences are fulfilling."

A lawyer for the players was not immediately available for comment.

The federal lawsuit said the coaches routinely called black players "dogs," "toxic" and "crabs," while racially segregating practices and travel accommodations during the last two seasons.

The coaches are also accused of disciplining black players more harshly than white teammates, demeaning white players who associated or defended black players and labeling black players as unintelligent and undisciplined players, the lawsuit said.

The school said investigators found no truth to the accusations of players being segregated by race during practice and at hotels during road trips.

The probe also found that extra practice sessions included both African-Americans and Caucasians held to ensure that athletes who did not play a lot remained ready to play and were not punitive.

Bollant and Divilbiss acknowledged that the tone of their coaching at times was too negative, but the evidence shows their actions did not constitute racial discrimination or harassment, the school said.

The school said it will take steps to clarify expectations regarding coaches' conduct, better define the coach-parent relationship and enhancing resources for student-athletes to report concerns or complaints.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alan Crosby)