By Laura Townsend
On May 19, the University of Iowa paid $6.5 million to settle two discrimination lawsuits against the Athletics Department. Former field-hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and her partner Jane Meyer, the former senior associate athletics director, alleged that they were discriminated against by athletics officials based on their gender and sexual orientation.
Advocates of women in college athletics praised the settlement as a victory.
Just two months after the settlement, Henry and Patricia Tippie committed to a gift of $5 million to endow the position of Iowa athletics director, making the UI the third school in the Big Ten conference to endow its AD. Gary Barta will serve as the athletics chair and is to receive an annual payout from the gift.
The gift will provide the Athletics Department with more than half of the money it lost in the recent settlement, which may feel like a slap in the face to supporters of Meyer and Griesbaum following their painful, at times cringe-inducing three-year battle for justice.
Meyer asserts that Barta is to blame for ending Griesbaum’s 14-year career as Iowa’s field-hockey coach. Meyer’s attorneys, Tom Newkirk and Jill Zwagerman, spoke of years of subtle bias on Barta’s part favoring straight male athletes and staff members. According to the suit, Barta retaliated against numerous discrimination complaints from both Griesbaum and Meyer during their careers.
The loss of $6.5 million was a major hit to the Athletics Department. The department’s 2017 budget was slightly more than $102 million, but the estimate for 2017 has quickly climbed to more than $113 million. Barta’s role seems obvious in a case that found that neither Meyer nor Griesbaum committed any violations during their time at the university. Clearly, the Tippies do not feel the punishment fits the crime in this case.
The donation following the suit is problematic because it seems to imply, once again, that white, straight male athletes and athletics officials are virtually untouchable. Rather than suffer the consequences of the settlement, Barta is celebrating his endowment.
Barta, who told Hawk Central in a recent interview, “I make mistakes every day,” did not seem fazed by the settlement, even before the endowment was announced. In fact, Barta plays the victim of a long lawsuit, not the unnamed perpetrator that the suit was against. In the same interview he claims that, “over the years I had to develop a thick skin … I’m not going to lie and say that the last several months were easy. They weren’t. They were difficult.”
Barta might not need such a thick skin with the Tippie’s $5 million behind him. Let us not forget the real victims in this case, though, Meyer and Griesbaum, who can, one hopes, continue to move on following the settlement.