IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa is refusing to reinstate fired women's field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum or to investigate what her supporters call a pattern of unfair treatment of female coaches, according to correspondence obtained by The Associated Press.
Griesbaum's attorney, Tom Newkirk, asked President Sally Mason to re-examine the investigation that led to Griesbuam's abrupt termination after 14 years at the helm of one of Iowa's most successful women's athletics programs. He said the university needed to ensure that "no form of bias nor any double standard played a role," saying her firing in August was the result of allegations of mistreatment from dissatisfied players that would have been dismissed if Griesbaum was a man.
"Why is it that even a number of minor complaints about a 'mean' female coach were taken so seriously?" he wrote in a Sept. 3 letter, which was obtained under the public records law. "We understand that the athletic department needs to address the concerns of student athletes and that player abuse is a serious issue. However, it undermines the entire system to enable generic complaints about a female coach based on behavior that so often pales in comparison to the behavior of male coaches."
In his first interview since he was retained by Griesbaum, Newkirk said Tuesday that Griesbaum is considering filing civil rights complaints and a lawsuit if the university does not act.
Athletic Director Gary Barta terminated Griesbaum's contract Aug. 4 after some ex-players alleged Griesbaum verbally abused and bullied them. Barta has said an investigation didn't substantiate any policy violations, but identified concerns that justified a leadership change. The university paid Griesbaum a $200,000 buyout.
Newkirk noted that Griesbaum, 48, is the fifth female coach fired since 2009 under Barta's tenure. He said he was concerned sexual orientation was also a factor in the dismissal of Griesbaum, who is gay.
"We just hold women to a different standard and that's what the University of Iowa happens to be doing," Newkirk said. "Female coaches have complaints used against them to drive them out and males do not."
Barta said in a statement that Griesbaum's bias claims "simply aren't true." Barta has also terminated three male coaches, athletic department spokesman Steve Roe said.
The field hockey team is 7-2 and ranked No. 7 under Griesbaum's longtime assistant, Lisa Cellucci, who was named interim coach.
Barta has nonetheless faced a continuing backlash from players, who have called Griesbaum's firing unfair and worn "TG" shirts to support her. Dozens of supporters have called for Griesbuam's reinstatement, including parents, boosters and rival coaches. Former Iowa field hockey coach Beth Beglin called the firing the "most egregious example" of the disparate treatment between men and women's coaches under Barta.
Assistant attorney general George Carroll, responding on behalf of the university, told Newkirk in a letter obtained by the AP that the university denied any discrimination and "will not conduct an investigation into the purported 'implicit gender bias' in women's athletics" or reinstate his client. In another letter, Carroll added: "Neither your lengthy letters nor the poorly veiled threat of media attention will change the university's position."
Newkirk noted that no members of football coach Kirk Ferentz's staff were disciplined after intense workouts led 13 players to become hospitalized in 2011, and that the university largely excused the sideline outbursts of men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery.
"Meanwhile, if you're a female coach at Iowa, you're thinking, 'I can't yell at my player. I can't make my player upset'," he said. "If you are coaching with your hands cuffed, how can you coach and be competitive in Division I sports?"