College Hoops Stars Call U of I Coaches Racist

     CHICAGO (CN) – The man who coaches women’s basketball at University of Illinois treats black players as less disciplined than white ones, seven claim in Federal Court.
     Amarah Coleman is the lead plaintiff in the July 1 complaint against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Director of Athletics Mike Thomas, and women’s basketball coaches Matt Bollant and Mike Divilbiss.
     Coleman and the others, all Division I basketball players, claim that head coach Bollant and assistant coach Divilbiss “mistreat[ed] and abuse[d] the plaintiffs physically, psychologically and/or mentally in the context of Women’s Basketball Program games, practices and/or activities in such a manner as to create a racially hostile environment within the program.”
     Among the plaintiffs, five are black and two are white. Three of the black plaintiffs say they were recruited and awarded scholarships by Bollant’s predecessor, Jolette Law, a black woman.
     Athletics director Thomas fired Law in 2012, and the new coach began recruiting white players preferentially over black players, resulting in the increase in white team members every year since, according to the complaint.
     The players claim that Bollant and Divilbiss instituted segregated travel room assignment, prohibiting white players from rooming with black players, and leveled more severe discipline against black players for similar offenses as white players.
     The coaches also directly and indirectly labeled the black players as unintelligent, undisciplined, “west-side ghetto” street-ball players, according to the complaint.
     Before games, the coaches “singled out the black plaintiffs and other black teammates to ask what the players on the other team were thinking or going to do, implying that blacks think differently than whites.”
     The three plaintiffs recruited by Law – Alexis Smith, Nia Oden and Taylor Tuck – say that the coaches called them “‘crabs’ because one crab can climb out of a bucket, but more than one pull each other down in and none can get out.”
     In addition to calling these women toxic, the coaches called these segregated practices “the dog pound,” according to the complaint.
     The two white plaintiffs say that they were threatened with being sent to the “dog pound” for associating with and supporting black players.
     “If a non-associating or favored white girl played poorly or made mistakes, the Defendants, Bollant and/or Divilbis, encouraged the white girl or coached her for improvement; yet if a black girl or associating white girl played poorly or made a mistake, the black and/or associating white player was insulted, denigrated, demeaned, demoralized and/or embarrassed in front of the rest of the team or other observers in a manner so as to publicly humiliate and disparage that player,” the players claim.
     Responding to the lawsuit, university chancellor Phyllis Wise called it “disappointing” that the players went to court before an external review could release findings.
     “We will review the lawsuit and determine an appropriate response,” Wise said in an email. “I cannot stress enough that any time we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn’t excellent, we take those concerns seriously. We intended that through the external review process the student-athletes and their families would help us better understand their concerns and perceptions.”
     Thomas has added staff to monitor team activities for discriminatory practices, Wise noted.
     The players seek over $40 million in damages for maintaining a racially hostile environment in education, racial discrimination, and violation of equal protection rights.
     They are represented by Terry Ekl with Ekl, Williams & Provenzale in Lisle, Ill.

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