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Baseball players dodge dismissal in discrimination suit against USF, coaches

A federal judge advanced eye-popping Title IX discrimination claims brought by baseball players at the University of San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge has advanced some lurid sexual harassment claims made by current and former University of San Francisco baseball players against their coaches and the university.

The lawsuit filed in March 2022 against the NCAA, the university and the now-former coaches is rife with details of seedy behavior by then-head coach Anthony Giarratano and assistant coach Troy Nakamura, stretching from 1999 to 2021. The players claim both men subjected them to "an intolerable sexualized environment" by appearing naked on the field or in windows, using abusive language, mimicking and openly discussing sexual acts, handing out sex toys, and then punishing players who did not participate.

According to the players, the coaches created a culture of ongoing degradation by routinely insulting and denigrating their players with vulgar names, forcing players to practice even when injured, and at times refusing to coach them, telling the players doing so would be a waste of time because they weren't good enough.

"Giarratano told one player he might as well kill himself," the players say in the lawsuit.

The players say they were forced to engage in a sort of strip poker, having to remove articles of clothing with each error. "Sometimes, they had to strip down to their underwear, and the coaches and other players would laugh," the players say in the lawsuit.

They claim Nakamura instigated much of the harassment and sexual behavior. But Giarratano did not condemn Nakamura´s behavior, the players say. Instead, the head coach "kissed the cross on his necklace and mimed looking at the sky to ask for God's forgiveness."

They add: "But he normalized the behavior by playing along with it."

"Coach Nakamura engaged in calculated displays of nudity, exposing himself to players and coaches," the players say in the lawsuit. "He required the players participate in sexualized skits before practice and would participate in them himself. For example, on multiple occasions in 2017, 2018 and 2021, he pretended that he was at a buffet, required a player to do a handstand, grabbed and split open the player’s legs, and pretended to eat spaghetti from the genital area, to many players’ disgust."

During one practice, the players say Nakamura told the team he would be in charge of that day´s skit and "crawled out of the dugout naked, knelt in front of one of the players and swung his penis around, to the players' disbelief, embarrassment, and disgust."

The behavior didn't stop there, the players say. Nakamura regularly engaged in exhibitionist behavior, used lewd language to describe women, made fun of two players who were not public about being gay by depicting them in a skit having anal sex. They also say Nakamura insisted upon using the showers in the players´ hotel rooms, after which he would parade around their rooms naked and describing himself as bisexual.

Parents of the students complained to then-athletic director Joan McDermott but she did not respond, according to the lawsuit, and in one case did not give the complaint to USF´s Title IX office as USF policy required. Instead, they say she gave the complaint to the coaches who then their harassment of that particular student through the rest of the summer.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex, while California Education Code § 66270 prohibits discrimination based on gender.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Laurel Beeler dismissed the claims of nine players as barred by the statute of limitations, which is not tolled because the players were aware of the misconduct. And because the NCAA is headquartered in Indianapolis, Beeler ruled the Southern District Court of Indiana is the proper venue for claims against the organization.

But the other plaintiffs' discrimination claims against the university and the coaches will proceed.

"The issue is whether the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that USF discriminated against the plaintiffs based on sex," Beeler wrote. "Because the plaintiffs alleged a sexualized environment that was severe, persistent, and pervasive, the court denies the motion to dismiss."

The players' attorney Elizabeth Fegan with the law firm FeganScott said they will move forward with the suit.

“We appreciate the court’s guidance and look forward to filing an amended complaint against USF and the coaches in California and the NCAA in Indiana,” said Fegan in an email.

USF spokesperson Kellie Samson said the university appreciated the court´s "careful analysis" in dismissing several of the claims.

"As this case continues, we are confident USF will demonstrate that it acted appropriately," Samson said in a statement. "USF takes allegations of misconduct seriously, and upon learning of complaints involving the baseball coaches, USF immediately opened an investigation and took appropriate steps, including terminating the coaches."

In December 2022, USF suspended both Nakamura and Giarratano. McDermott, the athletic director, has left her position as well, according to a report from YahooFinance.

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