This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
A historically black university near Houston, its athletic department and a former coach are grappling with issues relating to ‘dating relationships’ among teammates. This as a women’s basketball head coach was fired in March for violating the rights of two of her players who were dating each other.
How should this behavior be managed both on and off the court, in an effort to avoid the courtroom? Is it more important to maintain a good team dynamic, or safeguarding a person’s civil rights?
That’s the question regarding a recent incident involving the firing of Prairie View A&M University women’s basketball coach Dawn Brown after she suspended two female players from the team because they were dating.
The athletes filed a Title IX complaint, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Title IX applies to all aspects of education programs or activities receiving federal funding.
Prairie View’s Athletic Compliance Director Monique Carroll states, “According to the information that’s published online and in our student athlete handbook, it is the head coach’s responsibility to develop team policies for his or her sport.”
And that’s exactly what Coach Brown did. She created the following rule for the team: No player should have non-professional relationships with other players, coaches, managers or any other persons affiliated with the program.
According to Brown’s statement, she developed the rule after an assistant coach was fired last August for having an inappropriate relationship with a player.
She then collaborated with the school’s Title IX coordinator and athletic director on the rule. Brown claims she received approval.
USA Today reports that a university investigation found that the players were removed from the team because of their relationship and that they experienced discrimination over their sexual orientation.
“A lot of coaches have made rules like this,” according to Helen Carroll, who’s a former championship basketball coach herself and the sports project director of theNational Center for Lesbian Rights.
Carroll says Coach Brown may have overreacted in producing her rule based on incidents that happened in August.
“The relationship between an assistant coach and a player is completely different than this and should never happen,” says Carroll. “So that’s separate – though I do feel there was an overreaction that Dawn kind of jumped in there and felt like she had to make that rule right away for everybody that had to do with athletics.”
Carroll says ‘intra-team dating’ can be allowed, but coaches should have proactive expectations and guidelines in place that foster a good team dynamic.
She says those guidelines should apply to all relationship management issues and rules should not be established simply because a player is gay or a lesbian.
“If departments don’t want to get mired into this illegal rule of ‘players cannot date each other’ and that’s the only rule that’s made about any relationships,” notes Carroll, “then it’s unfair and it’s discriminatory to do that kind of ‘pin-pointed’ rule on relationships.”
Carroll says managing ‘dating’ among teammates is one of the most requested topics for discussion among college coaches, especially with coaches of women’s teams.
As more gay men and women come out to staff members and teammates in college, she says it’s important for coaches to communicate guidelines that promote respect for team members of all sexual orientations.
Coach Brown’s agent, Garry Rosenfield, says his client plans to appeal her termination but they’re waiting for Prairie View to submit its findings from the investigation.
The two former players suspended from the team remain in school and on scholarship.
Brown finished with a 41-51 record in three seasons at Prairie View. She led the university to the 2014 SWAC Tournament Championship and NCAA Women’s Basketball Division I Tournament. The Lady Panthers finished the 2015-16 season 13-15 overall and 9-9 in SWAC divisional play.