Upon returning home from a workout on July 2, 1991, Ohio State middle-distance runner Denise Klemencic found an official Ohio State envelope in her mailbox. Inside was a tabloid article about a man with an 18-inch tongue. An accompanying note from Buckeyes assistant track and field coach Ed Crawford read, "Man of your dreams." Klemencic recalls thinking that the correspondence was in very bad taste but that she didn't want "to make an issue of it." A year later, she wished she had.
A tri-captain of the Buckeyes' women's team, Klemencic finished her course work and athletic eligibility in June 1992. She postponed graduating, however, so that she could train at Ohio State facilities with the Buckeyes (a courtesy the university often extends to former athletes) in hopes of qualifying for the '96 Olympic trials. That summer, Klemencic says, Crawford called and asked her out. She says she refused, saying it would be inappropriate for a coach and an athlete to date. Six days later, she says, he asked again, and again she said no. Several weeks later, when the fall semester commenced, Klemencic phoned Crawford to find out when she should arrive to work out. Crawford, she says, told her the offer had been rescinded. "He told me that if I showed up, he'd call the campus police," she recalls. To Klemencic, it was clear what had happened. She had rebuffed Crawford's advances, and he was retaliating.
Just as women's sports is awash in consensual sexual relationships between athletes and coaches, so too is it fertile ground for sexual harassment or charges thereof. What a coach may deem an innocuous offer of encouragement or comfort, an athlete may interpret quite differently—as may governing bodies.
Klemencic complained to Ohio State about what she said was sexual harassment by Crawford. In the spring of 1993 the school's office of human resources wrote a letter to Crawford stating, "The evidence does support Ms. Klemencic's claim of sexual harassment and retaliation." That letter and a reprimand were placed in Crawford's personnel file. When Klemencic filed suit in U.S. District Court in Columbus against Crawford and Ohio State, the school offered her $370,000 to settle. But she declined the offer and lost the case, as well as an appeal. The court refused to admit as evidence the reprimand in Crawford's personnel file and found that he did not harass or retaliate against Klemencic.
At the college level the dynamic between coach and athlete is not unlike that of boss and employee—with wages, promotions and job security replaced by scholarships, starting positions and playing time. In a recent harassment study conducted in Norway, the first to use an athlete test group, researchers found coaches significantly more likely to engage in sexual harassment than bosses in the workplace.
"You have coaches in power, you have young females who want to please the coaches, and there's a lot at stake," says Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sports Psychology in Philadelphia. "It's easy for someone to feel exploited."
Says the male athletic director at a Division I school, "More and more it's an issue. I don't think there are too many ADs who haven't had to deal with this."
?In 1999 Syracuse women's tennis coach Jesse Dwire resigned in the wake of a $762 million harassment suit. Two players charged that Dwire had fondled and propositioned them, then pelted them with tennis balls after learning they had reported him to administrators. When the suit became public, seven former players claimed they too had been harassed by Dwire. The case was settled out of court.
?Later this year North Carolina's Anson Dorrance (SI, May 10, 1999), the most successful NCAA women's soccer coach, will be the defendant in a $12 million suit brought by two former players who charge that he sexually harassed them, allegations he denies.