Former and current members of the women’s rowing team filed a Title IX lawsuit against SMU Friday.
The lawsuit alleges that SMU discriminated against the female athletes on the rowing team by “providing the team with unequal funding and second class resources.”
Those allegations are directed at the coaches, the training staff and the athletic department.
Four of the former rowers—Kelly McGowan, Jessica Clouse, Lindsay Heyman and Meghan Klein—were present Friday at a conference announcing the suit.
Other plaintiffs include Sydney Severson and Rebekah Tate, as well as two others identified as Jane Roe 1 and Jane Roe 2.
“SMU has treated Title IX as a numbers game,” said Alex Zalkin of the Zalkin Law Firm, who is representing the plaintiffs with Shelia Haddock.
Title IX requires that SMU have the same number of teams for male and female student athletes, but Zalkin also points out that they must be afforded equal medical attention and opportunity to coaches and training staff.
Each plaintiff suffered labral tears in one or both hips during their time as a student athlete at SMU and has had or will have surgery to repair the hip.
The rowers claim they were told by doctors to expect to have other surgeries to either repair or completely replace the hip. These injuries are considered rare and require many months of rehabilitation.
“We know of at least 15 girls or more possibly just in the last eight years with the same exact injury,” McGowan said at the conference announcing the lawsuit. “I am almost positive that if there were 15 football players or 15 basketball players that had the same injury by the same coaches in eight years, I do not believe [SMU] would have let that go on.”
When asked if the rowers knew any other girl that they rowed with in high school who did not attend SMU had suffered a similar injury, the four plaintiffs could think of only one.
Heyman said she was told to compete with a hairline fracture in her spine. That injury was diagnosed after she competed.
The sport uses two styles of rowing: sweeping and sculling. Sculling is using two oars on either and sweeping is using one oar on both sides.
Heyman says the team’s coach, Doug Wright, attempted to blend the two styles together but could not say if the hybrid stroke style definitively attributed to the hip tear.
“My injury was not diagnosed by the SMU doctors,” McGowan said. She says it took her a full nine months until she received proper medical care for her injury, which ultimately required surgery. McGowan was medically disqualified in January 2017.
The suit claims the girls were overexerted in the weight room with minimal supervision while performing Olympic lifts. The rowers claim they were often told to go up in weight after every lift, resulting in a compromise of proper form. If they did not go up in weight, the rowers were told they were not trying hard enough.
SMU hired new trainers in 2015. Heyman, who has graduated, was informed of the new hire and that she had been performing the Olympic lifts incorrectly with “virtually no coaching or supervision.”
Until 2016, the team shared its one trainer with the football team, and the suit alleges that the trainer would favor treating a football player over a rower.
“I still love SMU,” Clause said. “I still support the football team. I still support the school in general. But the athletic department has issues that they were aware of and didn’t do anything about.”
In a statement to The Daily Campus, the school said, “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.”
SMU was found to be in violation of Title IX in 2014. That instance was not about athletics, but a lack of proper response to reports of sexual assault.
No court date is set at this time.