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Mess With Texas

Two Longhorns coaches slept with students. One was forced from her job. One was promoted. Is there a double standard at UT?

A college coach had a consensual relationship with a student. When university officials found out about it, they initiated proceedings to fire the coach.

A college coach had a consensual relationship with a student. When university officials found out about it, they ... required him to attend a session of counseling and then, after freezing his salary for 11 months, gave him a raise and a promotion.

Different schools have different policies. But the above incidents occurred at the same one: the University of Texas. The first coach is 55-year-old Bev Kearney—unmarried now and at the time of her relationship—who led the women's track team to six NCAA titles between 1998 and 2006.

The second coach is Major Applewhite, 34, the much beloved former Longhorns quarterback. At the Fiesta Bowl following the 2008 season, Applewhite engaged in "inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student one time during bowl activities," according to a statement released by athletic director DeLoss Dodds.

Kearney's long-term relationship, with one of her athletes, began in 2002. When Texas officials learned about it (the school has not disclosed how it came to light) and confronted her 10 years later, she immediately admitted it and expressed regret for her "poor judgment." In December, Kearney was informed by school officials that if she didn't resign, she would be fired.

At the time of his tryst with a 22-year-old student trainer, Applewhite was running backs coach and assistant head coach under Mack Brown. He was and is married; his wife, Julie, gave birth to their daughter that same month. In January 2011, Applewhite was promoted to co-offensive coordinator. His salary has increased from $260,500 to $575,000.

"One has to ask," says Kearney's lawyer, Derek A. Howard, "How can this be anything other than a double standard?"

University officials insist it isn't, attempting to draw a clear distinction between the situations. Kearney's conduct was intolerable, said Patti Ohlendorf, the university's vice president for legal affairs, because a relationship between a coach and student-athlete on his or her team "cannot be condoned in any event." The point is valid. Sleeping with one of your athletes is ill-advised for any number of reasons: the potential for distraction and favoritism; the power imbalance; the jaw-dropping lack of professionalism.

Still, consensual relationships between staff and students are not expressly forbidden by school policy (which "strongly discourages" them). The policy does, however, require staff who have engaged in such relationships to report them to an immediate supervisor. Kearney did not; Texas officials aren't saying whether Applewhite did or didn't.

Howard says these relationships are "a fact of life" in a university culture in general, and at Texas in particular. "The university has no interest in investigating anybody, in any fashion, whatsoever," he says. Citing impending litigation, Nick Voinis, Texas's senior associate athletics director for communications, would not comment on this or other specific allegations.

Neither coach comes off as sympathetic. "Kearney got what was coming to her," wrote Kevin Sherrington in The Dallas Morning News. "The question is whether Applewhite did, too."

In the vanguard of those who believe the ex-quarterback has suffered enough is billionaire Texas booster Joe Jamail—the guy for whom the field is named at Darrell K. Royal--Texas Memorial Stadium. A personal injury lawyer, Jamail told the Austin American-Statesman that Applewhite's indiscretion was akin to "spitting in the street.... That's a $25 fine."

Even if the school carries the day in the court of public opinion, it may not fare as well in a court of law. On March 8, Kearney filed paperwork with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission, charging her former employer with discrimination based on race, color, sex and retaliation.

"We disagree with statements and allegations in the document," says Voinis. "Nevertheless, they all will be reviewed thoroughly, and responded to, in accordance to EEOC, and TWC policies and procedures." He declined to say more, citing the likelihood of legal action.

Following a mandatory 180-day waiting period after filing her complaint, Kearney plans to sue her former employer for lost earnings and compensatory damages. In September 2012, she was presented with a potential five-year contract that would have bumped her base salary from $270,000 to around $475,000. The following month, an unknown party informed the athletic department about Kearney's relationship. On Jan. 5 she resigned.

Applewhite is less culpable, his defenders argue, because the student with whom he was involved was not a member of his team. No matter, says Howard. "Major Applewhite is absolutely a direct superior to a student trainer," he says. "There's no question that if he assigns her a task, with regard to her job, she has to do it. He's the superior in a direct relationship."

Explaining the punishment handed out to Applewhite, Dodds stated, "We have high standards for behavior and expect our staff and coaches to adhere to them in all aspects of their lives."

The question in this case isn't how high the standard should be as much as it is: Why is there more than one standard?


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