OU coaches assert right to police athletes' speech in student lawsuit

In a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from former player Kylee McLaughlin, lawyers for defendant OU coaches argued that some forms of speech are 'subject to a coach's remedial action.'

The student athlete, now at the University of Mississippi, had filed a suit for $375,000 total.

In a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from former player Kylee McLaughlin, OU volleyball coaches argue in favor of policing speech, saying the former player's social media posts were "detrimental to the team atmosphere."

“A player’s speech that potentially disrupts, distracts from, or hurts ‘team unity,’ ‘sportsmanship,’ or the ‘cohesiveness of the team,’ is subject to a coach’s remedial action,” the motion states. 

Kylee McLaughlin has sued her coaches and university, alleging that she was kicked off the team because her coaches and teammates don't accept her conservative views. McLaughlin is suing “for a minimum of $75,000 for each of five complaints, including an infringement on her First Amendment rights,” says a local news outlet

In June 2020, McLaughlin commented with two emojis, a clown and skull and crossbones, on an ESPN Instagram post about the University of Texas possibly changing their fight song.

This March, a University of Texas inquiry found no "racist intent" behind "The Eyes of Texas," the school fight song at the center of the controversy. 

After complaints from team members, Head Coach Lindsey Walton, one of the defendants in the suit, asked McLaughlin to evaluate her “white allergies” and “privilege,” and to delete the post. McLaughlin complied. 

[RELATED: Free speech for all? National trends show a one-sided story]

The next day, Kyle Walton, an assistant coach, spoke to McLaughlin about the comment. 

“Not sure I can coach you anymore,” he said.

McLaughlin pointed out in her suit that many of the other players had previously posted controversial content, with no punishment.

“Plaintiff retorted that several other players (1) posted videos of them drinking in the locker room, (2) were caught cheating on tests, and (3) writing racial comments, all without sanction or reprimand,” the suit states. "Nonetheless, Plaintiff was told that she did not fit into the culture of the team and that her teammates could not trust her based on comments she made in the past and her ESPN post."

McLaughlin’s teammates continued to call her “racist” and “homophobe,” which led Coach Walton to “believe that disrupted the cohesion of the team, which would undermine its ability to win,” says the suit.

In July 2020, Walton gave McLaughlin three options, all three requiring McLaughlin to cease competing on the OU volleyball team. One option was transferring to another school.

[RELATED: OU prof responds to FIRE: Speech in classroom is 'different than freedom of speech']

McLaughlin chose to “redshirt,” but was required to complete DEI training. She has now transferred to the University of Mississippi to finish her final year in athletics.  

In October, the university contacted McLaughlin about her DEI “growth plan” which included “online trainings on classism, ableism, trans and homosexual negatives, and sexism.”

McLaughlin concluded from her interactions that she was kicked off the team for her political beliefs, since she considers herself “a political conservative, and Christian who expresses her Christian faith through word and deed.”

In their motion, lawyers for the two coaches admit that she is correct, but that they cannot be held accountable since they have the power to punish players for their political beliefs. 

“Coach Walton was within her rights to cultivate a winning ‘team atmosphere’ by ensuring the players that ‘trust’ each other would be on the court,” the motion states.

The University of Oklahoma did not respond to a request for comment before publication.