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Griffin memo contradicts inquiry

AD to VP: "There has been NO issue of racial harassment'' in women's basketball program.

By DARRELL FRY, ROGER MILLS and ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Despite a 1999 internal inquiry that found a recurring theme of racism in the University of South Florida women's basketball program, the investigation was suspended because athletic director Paul Griffin strongly stated that no racial harassment existed.

Among documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times is a memo dated April 13, 1999, to Edouard Piou, assistant vice president and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Affairs, in which Griffin wrote: "Let me repeat in the strongest language possible. There has been NO issue of racial harassment."

Assistant athletic director for basketball operations Hiram Green, who spearheaded the internal investigation, had concluded on April 1, however, there was a "re-occurring theme and/or undertone of racism in the women's basketball office by Jerry Ann Winters and Ron Gathright," an assistant coach who has since left the team. Green was informed in June that his position was being eliminated. He will leave his post nexth month. And that "comments made by coaches, attitudes on behalf of the staff, and several practices seem to suggest that concerns of insensitivity may be valid."

Green also suggested that Griffin "follow up on these issues and arrive at an appropriate conclusion."

EOA representative Camille Blake, however, sent general counsel Olga Joanow a July 9, 1999, memo saying, "Given the representation by Mr. Griffin that there was no racial harassment, Dr. Piou decided that no further investigation by EOA was needed."

When contacted by the Times on Friday, Piou said: "I really cannot discuss it because the matter is under review."

On Thursday, former USF point guard Dione Smith, dismissed from the team last season, filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against Winters, Griffin and USF. The lawsuit claims Winters and Griffin violated Smith's civil rights; Smith was unlawfully dismissed from the team; and Winters discriminated against black players.

Documents from the internal investigation revealed:

Former assistant coach Stephanie Canada said on one occasion that Winters said she didn't want blacks and whites rooming together (on road trips) "because they (blacks) smell different and their hair is different."

Women's basketball office secretary Lisa Walker said that Winters stated she did not want to purchase a home with any blacks in the area because she feared her property value would decline and because they (blacks) do not keep their yards maintained or would let junk accumulate in their yards.

Both Canada and former coach Stephanie Elias made reference to Gathright's loose use of the "N" word and that it was used on several occasions.

Elias said she heard Winters say she was "not having any more dumb black athletes."

On one occasion when she asked about Gathright's lunch plans, Walker said Gathright indicated he wasn't going to go to the Golden Corral restaurant "because there were too many blacks there."

In response to the report's findings, Griffin and Blake thought the matter could be sufficiently handled through diversity training for Winters, according to university documents. On Oct. 4, 1999, Winters, Green and the entire team participated in a four-hour seminar, Building Diverse and Emotionally Intelligent Teams.

Asked to explain his handling of the findings and his memo to Piou, Griffin said Friday: "My correspondence with Dr. Piou was under the full understanding and concurrence with Mr. Green. ... When the full story comes out, it will have perhaps a different sequence of communications."

Despite the allegations and the cloud of racial disharmony hanging over the program since early last year, Griffin authorized a two-year contract extension for Winters in October.

Asked to explain why he thought Winters deserved the extension in light of the turmoil, Griffin refused comment.

Smith, 21, said she was wrongfully dismissed from the team by Winters in April after complaining about Winters' behavior toward the team's black players. And the university's EOA department found there was evidence to support Smith's charge, according to a confidential university document.

When contacted by the Times on Friday, USF president Judy Genshaft's special assistant said Genshaft would have no comment.

"Her position is this is in the courts, and she is not going to litigate it both in the judicial system and in the newspapers," special assistant Pat Riordan said.

- Staff writer Barry Klein contributed to this report.

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