Feb 11th, 2003, 06:49 PM
Here's the article for everyone
Sports Illustrated, Sept 10, 2001 v95 i10 p58+
Passion Plays: A growing number of coaches are falling in love with--and sometimes marrying--athletes they train. Some of these relationships succeed. Others disrupt careers or leave teammates stumbling over hidden obstacles. (Special Report [Bonus Piece])
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2001 Time, Inc.
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 Terry Liskevych.
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," Liskevych says.
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 Kent's."
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 are male."
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 athlete."
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 a rest.'"
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, Nebraska."
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 Orlando.
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 Garrett.
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 party."
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 great thing."
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 imbalance."
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. came out."
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 team.
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 Liskevych.
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 inside."
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 happened."
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 dating.
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 PLAYING TIME
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."
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