In the days before the 1996 Olympics, the U.S. women's volleyball
team was on the edge of disintegration. The gold medal that some
observers had predicted the Americans would win had become an
afterthought to the players. In their rooms at the Olympic
Village, they pecked on their laptops late into the night,
exchanging barbed e-mails like tracer fire. Others engaged in
face-to-face debates that sometimes ended in tears. The team even
called on its sports psychologist in an effort to restore unity
on the eve of the biggest competition of the players' careers.
The reason for this ill-timed internal strife: a love affair
between a coach and a player.
For two months before the team departed from its San Diego
training camp for the Games in Atlanta, assistant coach Kent
Miller and team captain Tammy Liley had discreetly conducted a
romance. Although the two were in unmistakable violation of a USA
Volleyball rule prohibiting player-coach affairs, the seriousness
of their infraction seemed debatable. She was 29, he was 34, and
they had known each other for years. In fact, two team members
say, in the beginning the romance may have fostered team
chemistry, as Liley confided in some of her teammates and
depended on their loyalty to conceal the romance from head coach
Five months before the Olympics, Liley broke off the
relationship, and, according to several team sources, Miller
became so distraught that he could no longer perform his job
effectively. Eventually several players and another assistant
coach told Liskevych what had been going on between Liley and
Miller. Liskevych recalls that some players threatened to quit
the team unless he enforced the federation's rule and took action
against Liley and Miller. If he were to let such a flagrant
violation go unpunished, how, the players wondered, could he
credibly discipline one of them for arriving late to practice or
missing a curfew? Further, because Liskevych leaned on Miller for
his judgment when choosing a lineup and making substitutions,
players say they questioned whether the love affair and its
aftermath had influenced decisions about playing time. "I was
wondering if [Tammy] slept with [Kent] to keep her starting
position," says middle blocker Elaina Oden.
Other players urged Liskevych to ignore the situation lest it
upset the team so close to the Olympics. Even his advisers in USA
Volleyball were divided. "It was the horns of a dilemma,"
The week before the team left for Atlanta, in what he calls "the
toughest decision I ever had to make," Liskevych stripped Liley
of her captaincy and suspended Miller for the Games--in effect,
terminated his job--for violating the rule. "Medal be damned,
what's right in the context?" Liskevych says. "What decision will
let me look in the mirror and say, I did the right thing? I think
I made the right decision, no question about that."
Some players were angry with Liskevych for taking such a
hard-line stance with the Games looming. "I was, like, 'You're
firing our assistant and getting rid of our captain this close to
the Olympics--you've got to be high,'" says outside hitter Caren
Kemner, one of the top American players of all time. "He could
have defused the situation more calmly and kept the players more
focused on what we were doing. This also gave him an out: If the
team screwed up, it wasn't his fault. It had to be Tammy and
Others blamed Miller for, as one player puts it, "not holding it
together after the relationship ended." Still others were furious
with Liley (who says she "took responsibility" and "apologized
for the interruption") for what they regarded as putting her
interests before the good of the team. "I know a lot of coaches
who dated and married ex-players, but the key word is ex," says
Oden. "The very foundation of the team was shattered when we
needed it to be strong."
The circumstances that threw the U.S. Olympic volleyball team
into turmoil are hardly unique. In fact, romantic relationships
between coaches and athletes are an increasingly serious issue in
women's sports. While no comprehensive research has been done in
the U.S. or worldwide, University of Winnipeg professor (and
former Canadian Olympic rower) Sandra Kirby released a study
before the Atlanta Games revealing that 21.8% of the 266 Canadian
elite athletes she surveyed (80% of whom were female) said they
had engaged in sexual intercourse with a coach or sports
authority figure. "The majority of those subjected to sex with
authority figures are female," Kirby writes in her 2000 book The
Dome of Silence: Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport. "The
majority of the authority figures having sex with their athletes
The phenomenon has involved athletes in a wide range of sports at
the college, pro and Olympic levels, and has become increasingly
visible with the growth of women's athletics. Since the enactment
of Title IX in 1972, participation in women's sports in the U.S.
has increased tenfold, from 300,000 to more than three million.
As women's sports have gone big time, the number of males
coaching females has risen dramatically. Between 1972 and 2000,
the proportion of women's collegiate teams coached by females
dropped from 90% to 45.6%. In the past two years 80% of the
head-coaching vacancies in women's college sports have been
filled by men. (In contrast, almost no women are working as head
or assistant coaches of men's college, pro or Olympic teams.)
Not that player-coach relationships are limited to team sports.
Track stars Cathy Freeman, Marion Jones and Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
among others, have married or dated their coaches, as have
athletes from pro sports as diverse as boxing (Christy Martin)
and tennis (at least a dozen of the top 100 women players in 2000
were romantically linked to their coaches).
Although many of these relationships take place between coaches
and athletes of consensual age, sports psychologists,
academicians and others agree that the issue presents an ethical
minefield. Few people would condemn an athlete like
Joyner-Kersee, who married her coach, Bob Kersee, in 1986 and
credits him with helping her win three Olympic golds thereafter.
Yet in other contexts, as the U.S. volleyball case illustrates,
such entanglements can be perilous for the principals--and for
those around them.
"One, the coach has power over the athletes," says Celia
Brackenridge, a British sociology professor and former
international lacrosse player who's one of the few academics
studying coach-athlete relationships, "and the higher you go in
sport, the more pressure there is to conform to whatever the
coach says. Two, there are selection concerns, possible
favoritism, in sports in which squads are chosen. I've been
involved in situations myself as an athlete in which I've seen
teams torn apart by jealousies because of what the players
thought was going on in a relationship between a coach and an
While every one of the more than 75 coaches, athletes, sports
administrators and academics interviewed by SI for this article
affirmed that they've had to confront the issues coach-athlete
relationships pose, the subject remains one of sport's biggest
taboos. Even two prominent female athletes who are married to
their former coaches, soccer players Brandi Chastain and Julie
Foudy, refused to comment. "It isn't in my best interest," said
Chastain. Said Foudy: "We are staying away from that kind of
stuff." To confuse matters further, there are no consistent
policies and guidelines among sports regarding what is and isn't
proper in coach-athlete relationships (box, page 70).
"Any coach who has been coaching for 10 years and says he never
fell in love with an athlete or vice versa is lying," John
Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches
Association (ASCA), told The New York Times in 1993, when the
ASCA became the first coaches association to adopt a policy
forbidding sexual relations between coaches and athletes. Today
Leonard is still with the ASCA, and his feelings haven't changed.
"My famous quote? I take heat for that all the time," he says.
"The fact is, it is true. Nobody in the swimming community tells
me it isn't true. They just say that you shouldn't say it."
Sometimes speculation about a coach-athlete relationship is
enough to unhinge a team. A few weeks before the end of the 2000
WNBA season, the Detroit Shock convened for a practice at its
training facility behind The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Shock
had just returned from a West Coast trip, and as the players
warmed up, casually stretching, dribbling and shooting free
throws, Nancy Lieberman, a Hall of Famer then in her third season
as the Shock's general manager and coach, strode into the gym. "I
want everyone in the locker room right now!" she shouted. One
Detroit player says she'll never forget the look on Lieberman's
face. "She was teary, but she seemed angry," the player recalls.
"She looked like a madwoman."
The players waited anxiously in the locker room for nearly 10
minutes before Lieberman joined them. She sat in front of a
locker, crossed her legs and spoke in a measured tone. "I know
that [some] of you have gone to management and said that Anna and
I are having a sexual relationship," several players quote
Lieberman as having said. Team members couldn't help but glance
toward point guard Anna DeForge, a 25-year-old WNBA rookie. "Anna
just put her head down," one Detroit veteran says. "After a
while, she started crying."
Questions about Lieberman's relationship with DeForge had been
percolating among teammates for months as the Shock slogged
through a dismal season. Now even those who had ignored the talk
had to confront the issue. "If you had a problem with my personal
life, you should have come to me, and I would have told you about
it," said Lieberman, who during the meeting reminded players that
she was married. After a failed attempt to find out which players
had complained to senior management, Lieberman, who was in charge
of the Shock's personnel decisions, said, "I will be here longer
than any of you. Half of you won't be here next year, so you
better start playing ball."
Though Detroit president Tom Wilson says Lieberman told him she
was not having a relationship with DeForge when he confronted her
shortly before the locker room meeting in August--and though both
she and DeForge reiterated that denial to SI--more than a half
dozen WNBA sources say they felt the team had to question whether
the coach and player were crossing the line. Players say
Lieberman, 43, and DeForge spent hour after hour together on the
road. One witnessed them exchanging hotel room keys, while
another spotted Lieberman's car outside DeForge's apartment late
one night, incidents DeForge says never happened. "In Sacramento
we went out by the [hotel] pool for a workout, and Nancy and Anna
were there, swimming and lying by the pool," says former Detroit
player Joy Holmes-Harris. "Everyone was, like, 'Come on, give it
Lieberman calls the notion that she and DeForge were involved
romantically "absolutely false" and says such talk was born of
players' petty jealousies and internal team politics. "Sometimes
players have a hard time separating playing time from
accountability," she says. "If you look at the players who said
those things, you'll see that most of them are no longer with the
franchise because they didn't produce for other reasons. Coaches
and players can be close friends. Pat Riley and Magic Johnson had
a great friendship. Shaq and Phil Jackson have a great
friendship. Anna is a wonderful person, and I hope I am friends
with her until the day I die. [But] I would never jeopardize my
profession or my character to be with one of my players."
Lieberman and DeForge confirmed that they shared Lieberman's
Troy, Mich., residence for 3 1/2 weeks after the 2000 season
ended. The reason, both said, was so they could work out together
and prepare for an upcoming basketball camp.
In Detroit, players say they were vexed by DeForge's rapid ascent
to the Shock's starting lineup. Unable to hook on to a WNBA team
after the ABL, in which she'd played for one season, folded in
1998, DeForge had been out of basketball for a year when she ran
into Lieberman, who was in Lincoln, Neb., to broadcast a February
2000 Kansas-Nebraska college game for ESPN. Three months later
Lieberman invited DeForge to the Shock's preseason tryout camp,
where she alone among more than 100 hopefuls earned an invitation
to training camp. Midway through the season, with the Shock
plagued by injuries, Lieberman moved DeForge into the starting
point guard spot. At the time, DeForge was averaging 3.0 points
and 0.7 assists; she hadn't gotten off the bench in five of the
Shock's 16 games.
"How does someone go from the 11th person on the team to a
starter?" asks one Detroit veteran. "[DeForge] would have to call
other people [for help] when teams pressed her because she
couldn't get the ball upcourt." Other players wondered whether
the Shock's top draft choice, point guard Tamicha Jackson, was
being left on the injured reserve list so that Lieberman could
protect DeForge's starting spot. DeForge started 10 games,
averaging 6.7 points and 3.0 assists. Says Lieberman, "No one
worked harder than Anna. If my star players and my high draft
picks had worked that hard, we would have contended for the
Eastern Conference title."
Finally, two players voiced concerns to Wilson, who says he asked
Lieberman twice about the accusations, and twice she denied them.
"It's very rare for a player to go to the team president, unless
it is pretty serious in the minds of many of them," Wilson says.
"You were getting pretty close to a mutinous state."
The flash point was the meeting in the Shock locker room. When it
concluded, DeForge was still crying. After Lieberman left the
locker room, two veterans walked over and gave DeForge hugs,
attempting to console her. One of them explained to her why her
teammates were upset. "I said to Anna, 'You know the accusation
is out there, but you are almost as at fault as [Lieberman] is,'"
says one player. "'In this type of environment, your teammates
matter more than your relationship with the coach.' I was trying
to tell her to back off a little bit."
Player-coach affairs become much more complicated if they're
same-sex. Even in a league such as the WNBA, in which one team
explicitly markets itself to the gay community, the issue is
doubly sensitive. "If there's a heterosexual relationship between
an athlete and coach, provided it's consensual and nonadulterous,
is it a bad idea? Yes," says Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker
Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University
of Minnesota. "But because of homophobia in and around women's
sports, if it's a lesbian relationship, the negative perception
is exacerbated--it quietly moves from the arena of poor judgment
to the arena of deviance and immorality."
Lieberman's promise that she would outlast every player on the
Shock went unfulfilled. On Aug. 28, 2000, shortly after Detroit
concluded a 14-18 season, Wilson told Lieberman she would not be
offered a new contract. Wilson confirmed to SI that the "tense
locker room" was a factor in the firing. "She sort of lost the
team," he says. Lieberman acknowledges that the situation became
untenable. "Tom did the right thing," she says. "If you lose most
of the players, it's a tough place to be. It was time to go."
Both Lieberman and DeForge are out of the WNBA. On March 15,
Lieberman filed for divorce from her husband of 13 years, Tim
Cline, in Collin County, Texas. According to court documents, she
and Cline had "ceased living together as husband and wife."
Lieberman works as a commentator for ESPN and lives in Dallas,
where in July she, with DeForge by her side, conducted a
basketball camp for girls. Asked about documents indicating she
and DeForge shared a residence in Dallas, Lieberman said, "I was
always there for players," and that she often welcomed players
into her home. "My home address," says DeForge, "is in Lincoln,
A year after their tumultuous season, Shock players look back at
how quickly the team unraveled. "Once the rumor started, it
spread like wildfire," says Holmes-Harris. "Players were upset
and frustrated and thinking a lot about it. They saw Nancy and
Anna together, and they got fed up.... The team fell apart."
While the risks involved when coaches date athletes who play for
them are undeniable, not every romance torpedoes a team's morale
and performance. In 1996 Danielle Garrett, who would become a
member of the 1999 U.S. Women's World Cup team and the WUSA's
Carolina Courage, married George Fotopoulos, her coach on the
Tampa Bay club team Town 'N Country Heather. Garrett and
Fotopoulos had met and begun dating in the summer of 1995 (she
was 19; he was 26) when their team won the under-19 national club
title, and they would lead Town 'N Country to the under-20
championship the next year as husband and wife.
Danielle is one of four members of the celebrated 1999 World Cup
champions to have married her former, current or future coach. In
'89 midfielder Foudy, then 18, began dating Ian Sawyers, 27,
while she was playing for the youth league Soccerettes and he was
coaching another girls' team, the Herricanes, at the Mission
Viejo (Calif.) Soccer Club. When Foudy entered Stanford, Sawyers
moved to the Bay Area, and he became the Cardinal's assistant
women's coach during Foudy's sophomore season. They married in
'95. (This season Sawyers coached the WUSA's Bay Area CyberRays,
while Foudy played for the San Diego Spirit.) In '90 midfielder
Michelle Akers, then 24, married Roby Stahl, 38, who two years
later would coach her with the Swedish club Tyreso. They divorced
in 1994. In '96 Chastain, then 27, married Jerry Smith, 35, her
former coach at Santa Clara.
The Fotopouloses tell a story of triumph and ordeal as they
recount what they've been through since the day they met on a
soccer field six years ago. "I remember saying, 'Is that our
coach?'" says Danielle. "Right away I was, like, Whoa!" Before
the under-19 national championship in 1995, Danielle and a
teammate moved into the Fotopoulos home--George was living with
his parents--so that they could attend two-a-day practices in
Tampa without having to commute from their parents' houses in
Danielle and George socialized in groups, but they say their
romance began on a Sunday that summer, when Danielle accompanied
George to a service at his Greek Orthodox church. They spent the
afternoon talking about their families, ambitions and religions.
(She's a member of the Church of Christ.) "After that, it took
off," recalls George, who says that, initially, they had a
chaperone on their dates, usually Danielle's mother, Donna
The other Town 'N Country players, at first, were kept in the
dark. "We were sneaking here, sneaking there," George says.
"Everybody knew, but nobody knew. We weren't sure how the team
and the community would accept it. If we'd lost early [in the
national tournament], there might have been grumbling and
accusations. But when you're winning, nobody says anything. After
we won the national championship, we had a banquet, and we
announced it [that they were together] to everybody. The response
of the team was so awesome. Half of them were in the wedding
Wanting to be closer to George, Danielle transferred from SMU to
Florida, where she would set the NCAA record for career goals.
Neither Danielle nor George, however, has fully shed the stigma
that can mark partners in a player-coach marriage. "Sometimes
even now I'll be on the field and hear people scream, 'You
married your coach!'" says Danielle. "One time in a [semipro]
game, people were brutal. They were like, 'Yo, Fruitopia!
Sleeping with your coach?' This was three or four years after
we'd been married."
For two years, meanwhile, George could not get a college coaching
job, even though his resume included two national club titles. At
one point, George says, he had a pile of nearly 200 rejection
letters from colleges around the country. "Ethically, I was in a
gray area," he concedes. "I knew I'd get crucified, but how could
I not get an interview? My friends in the coaching community
would say, 'George, you married your player. You crossed the
line, and now you have to accept the consequences.' I know it
cost me job opportunities, but when you fall in love, everything
else is meaningless. If I'd had to make pizzas forever in my
family's restaurant, I would have done it."
He didn't have to. In 1998, Tampa, his alma mater, hired him to
direct its new women's soccer program; after two seasons there,
he took over at LSU, leading the Tigers to a 15-6 record in 2000.
Danielle rebounded from her own setback (being cut from the
national team after the '99 World Cup) by scoring nine goals for
the Courage this season. "If I weren't married to George, I
wouldn't be playing soccer," says Danielle, who gave birth to
their first child, Alexia, last November. "Before we met, I had
never learned how to love soccer or study the game. Even now
he'll train me. Having somebody who supports me that way is a
In other instances athletes have been forced to choose between
their teams and their coach. Consider the case of Kristina
Koznick, perhaps the best U.S. hope for an Alpine skiing medal at
the upcoming Salt Lake City Olympics. A member of the U.S. Ski
Team since she was a high school sophomore, Koznick, 25, has won
more World Cup medals since 1996 than all other American women
combined. In the summer of 2000 she left the team to train on her
own. She says she did so because the institutional structure was
too restrictive and unresponsive to her training needs. According
to U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association officials, however,
Koznick's romance with Dan Stripp, one of the team's assistant
coaches, was at the root of the split. Stripp was dismissed in
the spring of 2000 for what head coach Marjan Cernigoj termed
"overstepping the professional boundaries between a coach and an
athlete." Two months later Koznick quit and hired Stripp, 39, as
her personal coach and manager.
Koznick and Stripp now acknowledge that they are dating, but they
maintain they weren't involved until they had both left the team.
The split doesn't appear to have hurt Koznick's performance
much--she placed seventh in last season's final World Cup slalom
standings and 16th in the overall results, making her the top
American in both categories--but without the $150,000 in travel
and training stipends she received annually from the U.S. Ski
Team, she has had to seek donations, solicit corporate sponsors
and sell T-shirts on her website (koznick.com) to offset
expenses. Yet even as she pays out of her pocket to travel, train
and sharpen her skis, she has no regrets. "I want Dan around,"
she says. "We have a great coach-athlete connection that I won't
pass up. I just won't."
The ethically ambiguous nature of coaches dating players gives
rise to a number of substantive questions. To wit:
--By its nature, can a romance between a coach and an athlete
truly be consensual? According to some experts, who compare
coach-athlete liaisons with those between doctors and patients or
bosses and employees, the answer is no. "If one person is in a
position of authority over another, the other cannot give
consent," Kirby writes in The Dome of Silence, in which she makes
the case that consent is impossible even when the athlete makes
the first advance or when the couple is pursuing a long-term
relationship. "Legal ages of consent vary from country to
another," says Brackenridge, "so what we need is a moral
agreement that says you cannot consent if there's a power
Neo-feminists often argue that condemning these relationships is
paternalistic and undermines a woman's freedom to make choices.
"This is one of those sticky feminist issues," says Kane. "You
don't want to disempower women. [A coach dating a player] is not
a crime per se. I just think that it's idiotic."
--Is the power dynamic one-sided? True, coaches are authority
figures who hold enormous sway over scholarships, playing time
and the direction of athletic careers. Coaches often wield a
psychological power over their charges as well. "Players look up
to their coaches and want to do anything in their power to please
them," says Mimi Murray, a professor of sports psychology at
Springfield (Mass.) College. "It's really intoxicating."
But coaches can be hurt, too. When a relationship violates
policy, the coach may lose his job, while the athlete seldom
faces severe discipline--just as a professor might well be fired
for having an affair with an undergraduate, yet the student would
not be expelled. On the 1996 U.S. volleyball team, for instance,
Miller was suspended while Liley merely lost her captaincy. Says
middle blocker Paula Weishoff, now an assistant coach at USC, "It
was unfair that they didn't receive the same punishment." Joel
Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in
Philadelphia, has seen cases of relationships between coach and
athlete in which the athlete realized she was holding the cards
and used that as leverage. In one instance, he says, a female
athlete threatened her lover-coach: If you break up with me, I'll
take this public. "It's another reason," Fish says, "why these
relationships are a bad, bad idea."
--Do coach-athlete romances differ from those between bosses and
employees or doctors and patients? In some ways, yes. For one,
it's common for athletes and coaches to spend long periods
together on the road. According to Kirby's study, 42% of
coach-athlete sexual encounters occurred on team trips. Further,
in sports, unlike in an office, physical contact--stretching
muscles, massaging an injury--is an acceptable, everyday
occurrence. Perhaps most important, coaches and athletes have a
unique bond shaped by an intense emotional investment, as well as
the highs and lows of winning and losing. "You practice with
these people, you train with these people, you travel with these
people," says Kane. "It's a small community. You have an enormous
amount of contact, and it's a charged relationship."
Coach-athlete couples in individual sports are burdened with
fewer complications than those in team sports. Concerns about
abuse of power still apply, but now the athletes are often the
employers, free to hire and fire their coaches, so the power
dynamic is more ambiguous. Moreover, in the insular world of
individual sports, coaches sometimes fill the roles of traveling
companion and confidant.
There have been dozens of well-known coach-athlete pairings in
individual sports, most notably Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Bob
Kersee. In her prime, gold medal sprinter Gwen Torrence was
coached by Manley Waller, whom she married in 1990 and divorced
almost 10 years later. Although Marion Jones and shot-putter C.J.
Hunter have separated--and though his failed drug tests took some
luster off her three gold medals at the 2000 Olympics--Jones has
often credited Hunter with helping launch her track career.
During Jones's days at North Carolina, she began dating Hunter,
then an assistant coach on the track and field team. Owing to
university rules that forbade coach-athlete romances, Hunter
resigned as coach in early 1996, soon before he and Jones were
engaged. Hunter then oversaw Jones's training before introducing
her to her current coach, Trevor Graham.
Cathy Freeman, the Australian runner who along with Jones was
the toast of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, began an affair with
her coach and manager, Nick Bideau, when she was 18 and he was
30. When they broke up five years later, soon after Freeman had
gotten a silver medal at the Atlanta Games, she nearly quit
running. A year later they reunited strictly as coach and
athlete, but the arrangement failed miserably. In 1999, when
Freeman married Nike representative Sandy Bodecker, Bideau--who
by then had fathered a child with Irish runner Sonia
O'Sullivan--filed a lawsuit seeking a percentage of Freeman's $2
million in career earnings. (Freeman countersued, and the case
is still pending in Australia.) "Business and personal, they
don't work together," Freeman says. "I've learned that."
No sport may have as many coach-athlete pairings as women's
tennis. In 2000 Barbara Schett, Sandrine Testud, Dominique Van
Roost and at least nine other top 100 players were either dating
or married to their coaches. This is hardly surprising, given
tennis's aria of emotions and the long blocks of time players and
coaches spend together. "Without some personal chemistry, the
relationship wouldn't work in the first place," says former
player Pam Shriver. "For every one [that becomes a romance], I'll
bet there are sexual feelings in 99 percent of the other
player-coach relationships that never surface."
A compelling case is that of 22-year-old American Meghann
Shaughnessy, a rising star on the WTA tour. When Shaughnessy was
14, she moved from Virginia Beach, where she lived with her
family, to Phoenix to train with Rafael Font de Mora, then 25,
who was running a well-regarded academy. Font de Mora was so
impressed with Shaughnessy's potential that he asked her parents
to sign a contract whereby he would waive his $25,000 annual fee
in exchange for a percentage of Meghann's future earnings as a
pro. A fiercely driven athlete known to go on long runs
immediately after her matches, Shaughnessy grew fond of Font de
Mora's regimented training program. Within a year she dropped out
of high school and, along with several other promising players,
moved into Font de Mora's house. That arrangement raised eyebrows
in tennis circles and caused Shaughnessy to become estranged from
her parents, Bill and Joy. Sources close to the family said that
the elder Shaughnessys twice tried to remove Meghann from Font de
Mora's program, but she refused to leave.
Despite Shaughnessy's potential, the U.S. Tennis Association
declined to provide her with the funding it traditionally gives
to promising juniors. According to a source close to the USTA,
suspicions that Shaughnessy was involved in an "inappropriate"
relationship with Font de Mora was a factor in the decision, as
were the concerns of Bill and Joy. "We have to align ourselves
with the interests of the parents," says Lynne Rolley, director
of player development for the USTA. Font de Mora contends the
reason Shaughnessy never received the support of USTA officials
was that "she never kissed their ass." He also says that his
relationship with her was strictly professional until she turned
18, at which time he says they began an amorous relationship that
led to their engagement a year later.
By then Shaughnessy was a full-time pro, struggling financially
and schlepping to tennis backwaters to troll for rankings points.
Imbued with an us-against-the-world spirit, she claims that
having Font de Mora as her companion made all the difference. "It
was disappointing losing in the first round," she says, "but it
was great having Rafael there to keep my confidence up."
Initially the dimensions of the relationship were confusing,
Shaughnessy allows, but she and Font de Mora adjusted. "If I had
a hard day at the courts, it could be hard to be a good fiancee,"
she says. "We learned to give each other space."
After finishing 2000 ranked 39th in the world, Shaughnessy is now
No. 12, having beaten Monica Seles and Venus Williams in recent
months, and has won more than $1 million in her career. In her
view, her success validates a player-coach relationship that
was--and, in some precincts, still is--met with disapprobation.
"There were hardships, but that's made it more rewarding,"
Shaughnessy says. "Rafael has been my coach for so long, I don't
know where I am without him."
In the days before and during the 1996 Olympics, Terry Liskevych
persuaded the U.S. women's volleyball team to keep the
Liley-Miller controversy "in the family" and to avoid discussing
it with the media. However, the team's chemistry had been
irreparably altered. "With women's sports especially, so much is
based on emotion and how the team is feeling," one U.S. player
says. "After this happened, we were toast before we ever set foot
on the floor." Caren Kemner puts it more bluntly: "All the b.s.
There were practical implications as well. As Liskevych's
longtime acolyte, Miller was a talented scout of international
teams who also assisted with the American setters and was the
primary liaison between the coaches, the players and the
federation. Once he was suspended, there was a conspicuous void
on the team. Less than a month before the Olympics, the players
also had to adjust to a new captain. What's more, the U.S. had
the misfortune of drawing Cuba, the eventual gold medalist, early
in the competition and lost decisively. Out of medal contention,
the Americans fell to South Korea a few days later and finished
the Games a disappointing seventh.
Five years later, some team members finally are comfortable
enough to talk about the situation for the first time. Tammy
Liley is now Tammy Leibl, assistant volleyball coach of the
women's team at the University of San Diego, married and the
mother of a 14-month-old son. She concedes that being involved
with one of her coaches "wasn't an ideal situation" but says the
biggest problem for the team arose when Liskevych terminated
Miller. "He was the main coach for our setters, and because he
wasn't in Atlanta, we were kind of lost," she says. Miller, who
declined comment other than to say he was "concerned for the good
of the team," also has moved on; he now coaches Toledo's women's
As for Liskevych, he is out of volleyball and works as a
developer of coaching software and lives in Southern California
with his wife, Nancy, who played for him at Pacific in the late
1970s. Their romance, he says, didn't begin until her playing
days were over, and his own situation never entered his mind when
he disciplined Liley and Miller. "Rules are rules," says
For others, five years isn't long enough to forget the Olympic
disappointment that followed the Liley-Miller affair. "That they
broke policy when they did meant that our team, our country and
volleyball in the U.S. felt the effects," says Elaina Oden. "The
opportunity for women's sports in this country was never better
than in 1996. I watched as the WNBA, WUSA and a professional
softball league formed. Maybe volleyball could have had a pro
league too. I don't know if we could have won a gold medal or
sustained a volleyball league in this country, but now we'll
never know what could have been, because those two put their
needs before those of the team. I knew there were 11 other teams
in that tournament that had the same goals as we did, and I was
ready for them. What I didn't expect was to be sabotaged from
COLOR PHOTO: THEO WESTENBERGER [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MATT MAHURIN
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: ROBERT BECK (2) End of the affair Some players suggest that the fallout from the breakup of Miller (far left) and Liley (near left and below) cost the U.S. a chance at an Olympic medal in 1996.
COLOR PHOTO: GREG SHAMUS/NBA ENTERTAINMENT Team turmoil Lieberman's closeness to DeForge--and decision to make her a starter--caused a "tense locker room" in Detroit.
COLOR PHOTO: GLENN JAMES/NBA ENTERTAINMENT [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Playing for keeps Shaughnessy, here at the U.S. Open, says she and Font de Mora have "learned to give each other space."
COLOR PHOTO: ROGER MASTROIANNI
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. All in the family Soccer stars Foudy (left) and Chastain are married to their former coaches but remain mum on the subject.
COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY JERRY SMITH [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. Fast tracks Olympic heroines Jones (below) and Freeman both coupled--then uncoupled--with men who had coached them.
COLOR PHOTO: TONY FEDER/ALLSPORT [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Together Danielle (with George and Alexia) transferred to Florida to be near her husband, who had been her club coach.
COLOR PHOTO: GRANT HALVERSON/AP [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Hindsight Leibl, nee Liley (with husband Geoff and Tyler), says being involved with one of her coaches "wasn't an ideal situation."
THE CAMPUS CONUNDRUM
As the case of Ohio State runner Denise Klemencic (right) shows,
harassment is difficult to define
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.
--John Trites, a swimming and golf coach at Franklin & Marshall
College in Lancaster, Pa., was accused in 1998 of secretly
videotaping female athletes as they showered. Charged with
illegal wiretapping, he's believed to have fled the country and
last spring was featured on America's Most Wanted.
In the Ohio State case Crawford, now the women's track coach at
New Mexico State, denies any wrongdoing. "What [Klemencic] did is
every male coach's worst nightmare," says Crawford, who says he
made no sexual overtures. Why did he ban Klemencic from training
with the team at Ohio State? "Not only did I feel she wasn't a
world-class athlete, she wasn't even a decent Division I
athlete," he says.
Klemencic says she hasn't run since June 1992. "I've tried to,
but it's been too upsetting," says Klemencic, who works two jobs
and lives with her mother in Cleveland to defray more than
$25,000 in legal fees. "Running forces me to relive what
There's no uniform policy among sports organizations on
relationships between coaches and athletes. Numerous governing
bodies--the WNBA, WUSA, NCAA and USA Track and Field, to cite the
most prominent examples--have no policy, while others merely
advise against breaking the law. A sampling:
USA BASKETBALL While it has no written policy, federation says
coaches and athletes are discouraged from dating.
USA DIVING "A coach member shall not engage in sexual relations
with a minor. A coach shall not otherwise engage in sexual
misconduct. Sexual misconduct consists of any behavior that
utilizes the influence of the coaching position to encourage
inappropriate intimacy between coach and athlete. A coach of a
collegiate athlete should not engage in sexual relations with any
collegiate athlete they coach, regardless of age."
U.S. SKI AND SNOWBOARD ASSOCIATION Prohibits coaches from having
relationships with athletes. Federation refuses to disclose
wording of policy.
USA SOCCER No written policy. The organization considers dating a
personal activity and doesn't prohibit coaches and players from
USA SWIMMING Prohibits "any sexual contact or advance directed
towards an athlete by a coach, official, trainer or any other
person who, in the context of swimming, is in a position of
authority over that athlete."
USA VOLLEYBALL "A coach [must refrain] from entering into or
promising another personal, professional, financial, or other
relationship with [athletes] if it appears likely that such
relationships might impair the coach's objectivity or otherwise
interfere with the coach's effectivity performing his or her
functions as a coach, or might harm or exploit the other party."
USA WATER POLO "Coaches do not engage in sexual intimacies with
current athletes. Coaches do not coach athletes with whom they
have engaged in sexual intimacies. Coaches should not engage in
sexual intimacies with a former athlete for at least two years
after cessation or termination of professional services."
WTA "A coach should not make any sexual advance toward, or have
any sexual contact with any player who is under the age of 17, or
under the age of legal majority in the jurisdiction where the
conduct takes place or where the player resides. A coach should
not have any nonconsensual sexual contact with a player of any
age. A coach should not engage in sexual harassment."
PLAYERS WONDERED IF THE ROMANCE HAD INFLUENCED DECISIONS ABOUT
SPECULATION THAT SHE WAS INVOLVED WITH A PLAYER HELPED COST
LIEBERMAN HER COACHING JOB
LEONARD MAINTAINS THAT IT'S INEVITABLE THAT COACHES WILL FALL
FOR ATHLETES AND VICE VERSA
"[A COACH DATING A PLAYER] IS NOT A CRIME," SAYS KANE. "I JUST
THINK IT'S IDIOTIC."
"WE WERE SNEAKING HERE, SNEAKING THERE," SAYS GEORGE FOTOPOULOS.
"EVERYBODY KNEW, NOBODY KNEW."