Coaches: do parents ever complain about their kid’s playing time?

Complaining about the coach is an American Tradition.  Maybe it’s universal, but it’s definitely part of the fabric of our culture. We all have opinions about punting or going for it on 4th down, about taking a timeout or not, about bunting or going for the big inning.  And for sure we have opinions about who should be playing. 

In keeping with that Tradition, the parents of Andrea Place made numerous complaints about Coach Way, girls’ basketball coach. She didn’t play Andrea enough. She bullied the players. She “talked down to the team and ‘cussed.’”  She told the players that she was not their friend or their mother and they should not come to her with their problems. Ultimately, she cut Andrea from the team.

The parental complaints went through the normal channels, which ultimately involved not just Coach Way, but also the principal, the A.D., the superintendent and a couple of board members one of whom strongly supported the parents’ viewpoint.  None of that is unusual. What’s unusual is when stuff like this ends up in federal court. But it did. That’s how it got into the Daily Dawg!

After graduation, the student sued Coach Way and the Board of Education, alleging, among other things, that she suffered retaliation for the exercise of free speech rights.  The court dismissed the case in a way that I think coaches will appreciate.

The court held that the student had to prove three things: 1) she engaged in constitutionally protected speech; 2) she suffered an “adverse action,” something that would “deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; and 3) that the adverse action was motivated by the protected speech, at least in part. 

The court took up the second factor first, and held that dismissal from the team was an “adverse action.”  However, the case failed because of the first factor—the complaints her parents filed on her behalf were not constitutionally protected.  This was largely based on the fact that all of this was about an athletic team. Here are some Key Quotes that I think coaches will want to frame and hang on the wall:

…First Amendment protection does not extend to complaints made in the context of a sports program when the complaints are related to coaching decisions, coaching methods, coaching style, or playing time, when the speech could reasonably be forecasted to cause a substantial disruption or material interference with that program.

And are complaints likely to cause such a disruption? 

Further, these cases hold that speech that could undermine a coach’s authority or sow disunity on the team causes a substantial disruption or material interference.

The court cited cases where parental complaints do have legal protection, noting that they dealt with more serious matters, things like 1) medical care for the child; 2) implementation of an IEP; or 3) reckless driving by a bus driver.  But not for being the starting point guard. 

That won’t stop the complaining, coaches. But I thought you’d like the outcome of Place v. Warren Local School District, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Ohio on July 26, 2023.  It’s cited at 2023 WL 4826292.  And many thanks to Loyal Daily Dawg Reader Tony Graham for tipping me off to this case!


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Tomorrow: what they did in Maryland….