It's not often I find stuff for a diary at espn.com, but this just jumped out at me. It's an Associated Press story headlined James Finley fired after 25-6 year. Finley was the coach of the Virginia Commonwealth University women's volleyball team just coming off his most successful season with them -- 25-6, and they had just lost in the semifinals of the Atlantic-10 tournament. What happened? New athletic director, and Finley is gay. Virginia is one of the states where we can be fired for no other reason than because we're gay.
I haven't trusted the Associated Press a whole lot this political season, so I went to the Richmond Times-Leader to see what they had to say about the whole thing. Their beat writer, Vic Dorr, Jr., leads off with this paragraph
Former Virginia Commonwealth University volleyball coach James Finley believes he was fired earlier this month because he is openly gay. He said he is contemplating legal action if the school does not move quickly to reinstate him with a secure multiyear contract.VCU, of course, says nothing of the sort happened. So, below the great orange divider.
Reading both stories, it's difficult not to conclude that Finley is correct, and that's not just me speaking as a gay man. The espn.com story (also running in the Washington Post but the espn.com story has been updated more recently) observes that Finley had been with the team for eight years and that this was their best year, but
Finley said when he met with athletic director Ed McLaughlin and executive associate athletic director Jeff Cupps, they told him their decision not to renew his contract — which expires Dec. 31 — had nothing to do with his won-loss record. The coach, who is 151-116, said he was told that they would help him find a new job; McLaughlin said Cupps would even write a letter of recommendation.McLaughlin joined the VCU staff in August of this year.
Here's where it gets hinky. The Richmond paper reports
An internal email sent Tuesday to VCU faculty members decried Finley’s dismissal and the October demotion of Pat Stauffer — described in the email as “openly lesbian” — from her position of senior women’s administrator. Finley said he and Stauffer are the “only two openly gay” individuals on the athletic department staff. Finley, who is married to local attorney John Sternlicht, said he has brought the matter to the attention of VCU administrators.It's not clear to me who sent it. Finley said he was "cautiously optimistic"
until Pam Lepley, VCU’s executive director of university relations, released a statement saying “VCU and its athletic director, Ed McLaughlin, are fully committed to the core value of diversity as reflected in the university’s diversity statement and strategic plan."More details from the AP story. It seems McLaughlin went out of his way not to have anything to do with Finley when McLaughlin took the job.
Before he was summoned to McLaughlin's office to be fired, Finley said he and the AD had never had a conversation. When they passed in the hallway, Finley said he would say hello, and McLaughlin never acknowledged him. The coach said at one athletic event, McLaughlin mingled with other coaches and donors, but McLaughlin walked away whenever he tried to join a conversation.And here's the kicker from the AP.
VCU has become a special place to Finley, he said, because of how fully it embraces diversity, and how it always made the coach, his husband, John Sternlicht, and their three sons feel "welcome, not tolerated." Sternlicht said much of the athletic department attended their wedding 2½ years ago.The Times leader spoke to the team, and
Finley, 151-116 in eight seasons at VCU, has been told by players who attended the session that McLaughlin said the athletes “deserve better than this” and “need someone who is going to represent this university well.”More clarification from GayRVA.com
Finley doesn’t blame VCU or the rest of the administration for this issue. He made it clear that he has faith in the system’s ability to clear up the issue. “I have a lot of confidence in Dr. Rao and the university to enforce the anti-discrimination policy in this situation,” he said. Virginia lacks sexual orientation in its list of protected classes for employment. However, VCU does include it in their anti-discrimination policy. Finley believes this policy was violated.So Finley has filed a complaint with VCU's Office for Institutional Equity, which has 45 days to investigate and evaluate the claim, and Finley says he'll involve the court system if the finding is against his reinstatement.
I couldn't find anything that suggested McLaughlin had a track record of homophobic behavior, not even at outsports.com or at deadspin.com. But if you have two gay employees, and you fire one while demoting the other, I don't think it's a great leap to see this as homophobic AND in violation of VCU's stated policies.
THERE'S MORE From WTVR, Richmond's CBS affiliate about the circumstances
There is nothing usual at all about a college athletic director bringing in his handpicked coaches and administrators to boost his program, to put his stamp on it.No, I couldn't find out more about that, but whatever it was his wife had to resign her position in the Merrimack College administration too.
And that’s what McLaughlin basically said in his prepared statement and what it says on the VCU Rams women’s volleyball page – that they were going in a new direction.
And, in fact, McLaughlin has already reached back in his past for his executive associate athletic director, Glenn Hofmann, who worked with him at Niagara University.
But this hire could also raise some eyebrows.
In August, one month after VCU hired McLaughlin, Hofmann resigned his job as Athletic Director at Merrimack College in Massachusetts after an independent misconduct investigation. That conduct was never publicly revealed, but the resignation was pretty big news at the time.
And about VCU
This is the university that, in 2010, basically told attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to go fly a kite when he said Virginia universities didn’t have legal standing to protect students and faculty from discrimination based on sexual orientation. If you know anything about this school, you know they are far from uptight.