Last week, after deliberating for a little more than two hours, a jury of five women and three men awarded $2 million in punitive damages to Heather Sue Mercer, the placekicker who sued Duke University for sex discrimination. Former Duke coach Fred Goldsmith viewed that verdict as punishment for a good deed. "It was my choice to let her be there," he said of giving Mercer a chance to play. "I was a nice guy, and I got stabbed in the back."
If so, Goldsmith may have been the one to unsheath the knife. Mercer, the starting kicker on the Yorktown Heights (N.Y.) High team that won the 1993 state championship, had an unsuccessful tryout for the Blue Devils as a freshman in the fall of 1994. The following spring she received nationwide attention when she kicked the winning field goal in Duke's intrasquad game. Goldsmith then announced to the media that she had made the team. The jury's verdict suggests that the subsequent treatment of Mercer could fill a primer on how not to deal with female players in the Title IX era. For instance, don't:
?tell the player, as Mercer alleges Goldsmith did, that she should give up "little boys' sports" and try beauty pageants or cheerleading instead. (Goldsmith testified that he couldn't recall using those terms.)
?tell reporters that the player is pretty and looks like Molly Ringwald.
?make the female player the first one you've cut in your tenure as head coach, while keeping at least one other (male) walk-on kicker who was arguably not as accomplished.
?ban the player from the sideline as a "distraction" and tell her, as Mercer alleges, that she should watch the games from the stands with her boyfriend.
Mercer, who graduated from Duke in 1998 and is now a securities trader at Charles Schwab in New York City, says she'll use whatever money she receives from the school ( Duke is appealing the verdict) to fund scholarships for female kickers. It might be hard to find recipients. An appeals court ruled that only when Duke allowed Mercer to try out did Title IX's prohibitions against sex discrimination kick in—football, as a contact sport, is normally exempt. What other coaches may take from Mercer's victory is the biggest don't of all: Don't let women play in the first place.