A lawsuit is charging that a small Kansas community college attempted to reduce the number of its Black student-athletes following disclosures that the school’s president compared a Black football player to Hitler, whom she praised as “a great leader.”
According to KCUR, the lawsuit was filed in Kansas City last week, stating that Highland Community College in northeast Kansas conducted a concerted campaign to discourage African Americans from attending the school, intimidated Black athletes into leaving and told its coaching staff to not recruit African Americans.
“The HCC administration acted in a concerted fashion to discriminate against Black student-athletes, and when challenged by coaches trying to do the right thing, reacted by smearing the reputations of those coaches, depriving them both of due process and future work possibilities,” William Odle, the lawyer representing the three plaintiff coaches, told KCUR.
B.J. Smith, the former women’s basketball head coach; Bradford Zinn, a former assistant coach; and Jered Ross, also a former assistant coach are the plaintiffs suing HCC, its president, Deborah Fox; athletic director, Bryan Dorrel; and Russell Karn, a member of its board of trustees.
The lawsuit claims the defendants worked to transform Highland Community College into “a racially homogenous campus with fewer African American athletes” and to “make Highland white again.”
“The Board selected both Fox and Dorrel despite their glaring lack of qualification for their positions because they enthusiastically agreed to execute the racially discriminatory policies alleged here by aggressively retaliating against coaches, including Plaintiffs, who resisted the administration,” the lawsuit alleges.
HCC is denying the allegations.
Smith, who is white, told KCUR in an interview that what happened at HCC “is one of those things that a lot of people will initially go, ‘Well, that can’t be true in today’s world, that can’t happen.’”
Smith says that not long after Dorrel became athletic director, “he told me I had to recruit more players the culture of our community could relate to. And I actually said, ‘I don’t think I understand what you mean.’ And he very aggressively said, ‘You know exactly what I mean.’"
“And that’s when I went, okay, hold on,” Smith continued. “I think they want to change the color of our school. And I don’t mean the colors on the uniform.”
Concerns over president Fox’s opinions about race were also brought into question when an unsigned editorial published last week in the Kansas City Star called for her resignation after she told a former assistant football coach in October that Adolf Hitler was “a great leader.”
“You know leadership, I mean for certain people that emerge as leaders, good or bad,” Fox allegedly said in a clip that accompanied the editorial. “You know, even though we don’t like it, Hitler was a great leader. I mean, I’m not saying … I don’t, to emulate in any way, but he somehow, even for evil, moved and were able to do these things, and, you know, it’s terrifying. But that’s what can happen when leadership isn’t acknowledged and goes untapped or undirected.”
According to The Star’s editorial, Fox reportedly had questioned a Black football player’s leadership skills and his influence on other Black teammates. Asked to explain the remarks, Fox told KCUR in an email she apologized to the students, faculty and college “for my poor choice of words.”