DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Kelly McGowan used the assistance of crutches to get her to her seat. Jessica Clouse tried to hold back tears while explaining her physical pain, and concern for her future. The women are connected by their roles as players on the SMU rowing team.
For over two decades, SMU has had a women’s only rowing crew competing in matches against other colleges.
Clouse and McGowan are now part of a team of eight current and former SMU rowing team players suing the university on claims of negligence and discrimination. “I stand before you unable to walk or sit without pain. Poor coaching, training technique and inadequate supervision led us to this place,” McGowan said Friday morning.
The eight women claim SMU violated Title IX rules, requiring equal treatment for men and women in college athletic programs based on the school’s investment in coaching, training and medical oversight.
“SMU had the opportunity and ability to correct this, to provide equality to its rowers. It chose not to,” attorney Alex Zalkin said during a news conference for four of the eight women listed in the suit.
The women described sustained injuries during training, practice or competition, and pointed to designated trainers provided by SMU who had no or little background in the sport of rowing.
The women said they shared a weight trainer from the SMU football program. “The female rowers here were not afforded equal access to competent medical care or qualified athletic trainers and coaches. And this wasn’t a secret,” Zalkin claimed.
Zalkin said SMU systematically discriminated against female rowers in particular with inequality funding and second class resources.
The lawsuit alleges the women were subject to inadequate rowing and weightlifting techniques, and were told to “deal with it.” Zalkin said SMU treated the rowing program as an afterthought, for the purpose of complying with Title IX.
Instead, the suit alleges SMU violated federal rules.
SMU officials issued a statement Friday after the lawsuit was filed on federal district court.
SMU’s foremost concern is always for students’ health and well-being. For student-athletes, in particular, our goal in our training programs is to emphasize and support health, fitness and injury prevention. While the University does not comment on pending litigation, SMU is committed to complying with Title IX in its athletic programs and throughout the campus.