Few things can vault a college athletic program from obscurity to notoriety faster than a controversy over gender equity—especially when it involves the rights of exotic entertainers. Such is the case at Cal State-Fullerton, where Leilani Rios (left), a non-scholarship hurdler, was booted from the women's track team last year as a sophomore for refusing to quit her job as a stripper at Anaheim's Flamingo Club.
Rios's extracurricular activity came to light after members of the Titans' baseball squad caught her act and spread the word around campus. Track coach John Elders issued Rios an ultimatum: Give up the stage or give up track. She kept the job. In a written statement Elders said, "I determined that Ms. Rios's decision to remain an exotic dancer would detract from the image and accomplishments of her teammates, the athletics department and the university."
Rios believes she was treated unfairly, since no baseball players were punished for visiting the club. (Unable to I.D. the players, the school had the team review Fullerton's code of conduct, which says student athletes must represent the school "in a positive way.") Unlike the Alabama- Huntsville tennis player who was declared ineligible after she posed nude for Playboy last year, Rios violated no NCAA rules because she didn't profit from her status as an athlete. "I don't think any of us should be in trouble," says Rios.
Now a junior kinesiology major at Fullerton, Rios remains at the Flamingo but would still like to run track. She's retained a lawyer but says, "My objective is not to sue but to run." And, perchance, to dance.