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Controversy

UT women's track and field coach resigns after “consensual intimate relationship” with student-athlete

University of Texas head women’s track and field coach Bev Kearney, who was put on paid leave in November for undisclosed reasons, has officially resigned after it was revealed that she had been involved in a “consensual intimate relationship” with an “adult student-athlete.”

As first reported in the Austin American-Statesman, UT launched an investigation last October after the unidentified student-athlete filed a report of the relationship between student and Kearney, reportedly from July 2002 to December 2002, when Kearney suffered serious injuries in an automobile accident.

Kearney’s attorney, Derek K. Howard, told the Statesman that when Kearney, 55, entered the relationship, she unknowingly violated a then one-year-old provision in the UT Handbook of Operating Procedures.

 “We believe that Ms. Kearney has been subjected to a double standard and has received far harsher punishment than that being given to her male counter-parts who have engaged in similar conduct,” attorney Derek K. Howard said in the statement. 
 

“In the event that a consensual relationship exists or begins to develop, the individual in the supervisory, teaching or advisory position shall immediately notify his or her immediate supervisor of the relationship and cooperate with that supervisor in making the arrangements necessary to resolve the conflict of interest,” the handbook states.

In her interview with the Statesman, Kearney expressed regret. "It’s been a difficult challenge for me simply because I have to forgive myself for making an error,” Kearney said. “I didn’t commit a crime, but I displayed poor judgment.”

And while both Kearney and her legal counsel did not reveal whether they would pursue legal action for her termination, Howard did release a statement to the Statesman that would suggest action further down the line.

“We believe that Ms. Kearney has been subjected to a double standard and has received far harsher punishment than that being given to her male counter-parts who have engaged in similar conduct,” Howard said in the statement. “It is a shame that this remarkably talented female African-American coach, who has devoted her life to helping others, is being bullied and scapegoated by the University of Texas.”

In a statement released Saturday, Patti Ohlendorf, UT vice president for legal affairs, said that the university’s official position on the issue was that “it can’t happen.”

“We believe Bev is a good person. Bev has done a lot for the university over the years,” Ohlendorf said. “We think this is a terrible mistake, and I know it’s something she regrets. But it’s not the type of thing that can happen between a coach and a student-athlete on the team.”

As head women’s track and field coach, Kearney was one of the university’s most decorated athletic leaders. In her 20 years at UT, she led Texas to six national championships and was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.  

According to public records requests made by the Associated Press in November, Kearney was in line for a pay raise after a recommendation from women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky to UT president William Powers Jr. Before resigning, Kearney’s annual salary was $270,000.

Kearney told the Statesman she might have to liquidate assets in order to continue to support her family, which now includes her daughter, whom she adopted after the child’s mother was killed in the car accident that left Kearney with serious spinal injuries.

“My life is service,” Kearney said in the Statesman article. “If I can no longer serve, I no longer exist, because what I exist to do is serve.”

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Do you think there's a double standard when it comes to how female and male coaches are disciplined for similar conduct? Post your answer to this question in the comment section below.

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