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Clearly, something troubling is afoot

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Women's college basketball is not a sport my column often addresses. No apologies. A matter of perceived priorities, always arguable. Today, it is my subject, but sadly not for championship reasons.

Over many NCAA springtimes, watching national playoffs, it seemed to me that women's teams tended to be more sporting, less confrontational, more considerate, less mouthy, more universally caring and less arrogant.

Was that a mirage?

Seeing extraordinary programs from Tennessee, Connecticut and Louisiana Tech, there appeared to be a full yet less-complex embracing of basketball than among collegiate fellows from Duke, Indiana, Kentucky and their more-celebrated ilk.

But, clearly, there's something troubling, even traumatic, going on with women's hoops at the University of South Florida. Makes me wonder if my glimpses of their game have been too casual, too superficial, not amply demanding and perhaps even male naive.

Former USF players, assistant coaches and basketball office employees say Jerry Ann Winters discriminated against African-Americans. Dione Smith and others have spoken up, filing six federal lawsuits. About two-thirds of the Bulls roster is white. Ferocity and impact have stooped to a she said/she said legal scrimmage.

Investigators for the university's Office of Equal Opportunity Affairs conclude there is "reasonable cause to believe" that Bulls coach Winters dismissed Dione Smith as retaliation. There had been words, even a song, that disturbed Jerry Ann.

Why does Bob Knight come to mind? With a history of controversy, the famous Indiana coach wrapped fingers around a player's neck, in a non-choking manner Knight claims. It helped get Bob bounced after 29 seasons in Bloomington.

Neil Reed does continue to breathe, so let's consider: Were the General's actions truly as offensive as those with which Winters is charged? Please leap to no passionate, anti-Bob conclusion.

This is ugly USF stuff. No matter the outcome of the Winters case, it will not be accorded 1 percent of the attention given Knight's comeuppance by print media and broadcast networks.

It's women's basketball.

He's Bob, she's Jerry Ann.

USF must be equitable. People are people, no matter gender or basketball uniform or national presence. One thing is excruciatingly clear: If Winters is not cleared on appeal, she must be fired.

If it's curtains for Winters, the situation may also be cause for dismissal of athletic director Paul Griffin. I mean, if he hasn't by then flown the USF coop to become athletic director at Iowa State.

According to a university investigation, former assistant athletic director Hiram Green said Winters told him Griffin said, with discrimination charges simmering, "It would be better around here once we get rid of the people who were involved in this situation." She vehemently denies making the statement. Still, all this did occur on Griffin's watch. His role must be deeply assessed.

I've never met Winters. She is 52. Mother of two adult sons. Grandmom to a 3-year-old Tristan Ann. Maybe there was a mega-generation gap with USF undergrads, although we aren't prone to mention any serious flap over a Bobby Bowden, 70-year-old Florida State University football coach.

USF could have made a case for terminating Winters for coaching incompetency. After 16 years and a 208-135 record at her previous major-college stops, Jerry Ann has struggled to 47-64 in four seasons with the Bulls.

Winters has been most unsuccessful. But, instead of searching for a better coach, with this mess festering, Griffin opted to give her a two-year contract extension.

In official university accounts of investigations, there was obvious sniping going on between coach Winters and athletes and also player-to-player conflicts. Problems often heavy with racial implications.

Watch the stereotypes.

Sarah Wilson, a white former USF player from Indiana, testified that if she were Bulls coach she "would not have tolerated" perceived taunting of Winters by Smith, a junior from Tallahassee. Wilson said she had been threatened by Smith, claiming that Dione said, "If you don't watch out, you're going to get hurt."

Girls will be ...

Ashley Teets, a white sophomore from Tennessee, suggested that Winters was uneven with toughness, forcing Smith to run penalty laps after kicking a basketball in anger. Meanwhile, according to Teets, former teammate Monica Echeverria, a native of Colombia, did the same thing and nothing was done by the coach.

Even-handed leadership?

Sobering stuff, to learn of all the bickering, jealousies and differences between USF coaches and players. Women's basketball has gallantly fought for equality with highly publicized males, but these kinds of occurences should not be a part of squaring up.

Judy Genshaft, second straight USF president who happens to be a woman, must cool it on the Winters case until all appeals are accorded. But, if nothing changes, Genshaft must immediately set a solid precedent, giving signals that junk in athletics will not be at all tolerated on her Bulls watch.

Pay attention, Jim Leavitt.

Watch closely, Seth Greenberg.

Equality means many things.

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