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Field hockey players speak out, University of Iowa responds

Federal Office of Civil Rights has power to revoke federal funding for non-compliance with Title IX

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University of Iowa field hockey players, Dani Hemeon, Natalie Cafone, Chandler Ackers and Jessy Silfer, filed a federal civil rights complaint against the UI last month based on concerns about the firing of their coach, Tracey Griesbaum, in August.



Submitted photo
University of Iowa field hockey players, Dani Hemeon, Natalie Cafone, Chandler Ackers and Jessy Silfer, filed a federal civil rights complaint against the UI last month based on concerns about the firing of their coach, Tracey Griesbaum, in August. Submitted photo

University of Iowa field hockey players who filed a federal civil rights complaint last month against the university say they did so only after UI officials refused to look into whether gender played a role in the Aug. 4 firing of coach Tracey Griesbaum.

Two of the four students who filed the complaint Jan. 28 with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) told The Gazette Sunday they want the department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to come to Iowa City to investigate what they see as gender bias in athletics.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to make the university better,” said Jessy Silfer, a UI sophomore from Cazenovia, N.Y. “We want to improve the experience for other student-athletes.”

The OCR oversees Title IX, the 1972 federal law that requires gender equity in educational programs that receive federal funding.

UI Athletics Director Gary Barta fired Griesbaum after several student-athletes said they were verbally abused by the coach and pressured to play injured. Although an investigation by the UI Department of Human Resources and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (EOD) found no violations, investigators described a “team environment of fear, intimidation, and/or mistreatment by Coach Griesbaum.”

Silfer and Chandler Ackers, a sophomore from White Haven, Penn., said claims by just a few teammates were given more weight than the voices of hundreds of women — past and present players — who describe Griesbaum as a supportive, professional, and ethical coach.

The federal complaint by Silfer, Ackers, Dani Hemeon, and Natalie Cafone alleges their Title IX rights were violated because the UI investigates complaints of male and female student-athletes differently and holds female coaches to a higher standard. The firing of six female coaches from 2008 to August “resulted from discriminatory practices” under Barta, the complaint states.

Eleven head coach positions held by men have turned over during Barta’s eight years as director of athletics, the UI responded Monday. Not all of those coaches were fired; some left for other jobs.

Silfer and Ackers said Barta tried to quiet their complaints with iPads. “He was playing to the materialistic side of girls,” Ackers said. “It didn’t work.”

But the field hockey players weren’t the only ones to receive the devices. The UI provided nearly 200 iPads to student-athletes in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, field hockey and volleyball last fall, the UI reported.

The iPads were configured to “allow access to academic, compliance and video applications associated with their responsibilities as a student-athletes,” the UI said. “They are not provided as personal property and are reclaimed at the end of each season.”

The UI said Barta and other senior athletics officials “met regularly with the field hockey team during the 2014 field hockey season.”

But Silfer said Barta met with the team only twice, the second time telling them “this is the last meeting we’re going to have about this.”

The women still had questions, which they took to the UI ombudsman, Title IX officer and the Office of EOD, Silfer said.

“Everyone within the university didn’t want to help us,” Ackers said.

The student-athletes contacted Tom Newkirk, Griesbaum’s attorney, who helped them file the federal complaint. The OCR doesn’t acknowledge complaints unless the agency decides to investigate, then the complainant and recipient are notified.

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