Stanford Sued by Athletes

Stanford University in California is on its way to cut some sports programs, including men’s rowing. There was a time when Stanford was proud to have a rowing team, whose members won Olympic gold medals. Pictured are from left to right: stroke Conn Findlay (who passed away on 8 April 2021), bow Ed Ferry and cox Kent Mitchell. From The Sport of Rowing (Richard Krahenbuhl LBRA 1959-1977).

14 May 2021

By Göran R Buckhorn

Athletes continue to fight for their sports. Now Stanford University is being sued for cutting 11 varsity sports, including rowing.

The Stanford Daily reported yesterday that athletes at Stanford University in California had filed two lawsuits on Wednesday against Stanford in federal court challenging the university’s decision to cut 11 of its 36 varsity sports programs.

In one of the lawsuits, athletes from eight of the teams that will be eliminated allege breach of contract and intentional misrepresentation because the university failed to inform them that their programs were going to be cut. In the second lawsuit, athletes on five of the women’s teams accused the university of Title IX sex discrimination stemming from the cuts.

The 11 teams cut are men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling.

The Stanford Daily wrote: “Stanford’s July [2020] decision to discontinue nearly one-third of its varsity sports teams after the 2020-21 academic year due to budget deficits was met with outrage from student-athletes and alumni who have raised millions of dollars and urged the University to reinstate the eliminated varsity programs.”

Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the athletes on eight of the teams, told The Stanford Daily: “Stanford’s misrepresentations to these students and their families is in violation of California law and threatens to cause them lasting irreparable harm. The students are at the top of their game, and will lose the irreplaceable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill their dreams to compete at the varsity level if Stanford is not stopped from eliminating these teams.”

The attorney representing athletes from the women’s teams, Rebecca Peterson-Fisher, said in a statement: “Their plan to cut these teams will widen the gender gap even further. Stanford cannot go forward with these planned cuts without further violating Title IX.”

Students from the men’s rowing and co-ed and women’s sailing teams are not involved in the lawsuit, The Stanford Daily wrote. Rowers on the men’s team said that they were not aware of the lawsuits before they became public.

Kessler said that while reinstatement would only apply to the eight sports, the suit’s outcome could set a precedent for the three excluded sports.

The second lawsuit, which alleges sex discrimination, was brought by athletes on the fencing, field hockey, squash and synchronized swimming team, as well as an incoming lightweight rower.

Farnaz Khadem, Stanford’s spokesperson, said the University was surprised and disheartened to learn of the lawsuits but stressed that they would not influence internal conversations about restoring the programs’ varsity statuses.

An alumni advocacy group called 36 Sports Strong is committed to reinstating all 11 sports, and has engaged in fundraising efforts and discussions with the university. Jeremy Jacobs, a spokesperson for the group and men’s volleyball alum, said in an email to The Stanford Daily that “some parents had mentioned to us that they were organizing some lawsuits and we read about them in the media, but we have not been involved in their legal effort. 36 Sports Strong will continue its advocacy, separate from the lawsuit, and we will continue to proactively work with the school to find a way to reinstate these teams.”

On 26 April, HTBS wrote about the women rowers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, Connecticut, who protested that their program was going to be eliminated at the end of this season due to budget cuts. On 28 April, lawyers for the women’s rowing team filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop the university from cutting the team and also filed a class action lawsuit against the school, citing Title IX violations.

The other day, the Hartford Courant published five things to know about the UConn women rowers’ lawsuit. Read the article here.

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