Washington State University and former football coach Nick Rolovich have denied wrongdoing alleged by former wide receiver Kassidy Woods.
Woods filed a lawsuit against the school and coach on Aug. 20, claiming that Rolovich violated his First Amendment rights last summer. Woods claimed he was removed from the team for participating in a player-driven Pac-12 movement known as #WeAreUnited.
The lawsuit claims that “Rolovich’s acts were racist, intentional, malicious, willful, wanton, and in gross and reckless disregard of Woods’ constitutional rights.”
Woods transferred out of WSU last year and plays for Northern Colorado.
On Friday, attorneys for WSU and Rolovich denied the bulk of Woods’ claims, including that he was cut from the team.
“Woods ended his football career at WSU by entering the NCAA transfer portal,” the attorneys wrote.
Woods, who carries the sickle-cell trait – making him susceptible to the coronavirus – told Rolovich in August 2020 that he planned to opt out of the coming season because of health concerns, and that his worries were substantiated a month later when 60 student-athletes at WSU tested positive for COVID-19.
The suit claims that WSU staffers had asserted that “campus was the safest place for players,” but Woods learned before his arrival to campus that his roommate had tested positive for the virus and “roughly” 10 football players had as well.
“His roommate felt that Woods should know about the positive cases even though (WSU) strictly ordered the players to keep silent to the media and others – including players who had not yet reported back to Pullman – regarding positive COVID-19 cases that were occurring within the program,” Woods alleged in his lawsuit.
WSU and Rolovich denied any knowledge of players testing positive for the virus before returning to Pullman, and denied “any nonchalance regarding COVID-19 risks or an environment where safety protocols were not in place.”
The suit claims Rolovich told Woods that it would be fine to opt out for health reasons, but it’d be a problem if the player was involved with the #WeAreUnited movement. Woods also claims he was then told he could not be around the other players, and was instructed to clean out his locker.
Woods and five other players aligned with the movement were removed from a GroupMe messaging chat.
Rolovich told players they could speak with him about potentially aligning with #WeAreUnited, which had issued demands and threatened a possible boycott of the season. WSU and Rolovich claim the coach held discussions with athletes “around the issue of players boycotting the season and other player concerns.”
Woods recorded a phone call with Rolovich without the coaches knowing or consent. In the call, the coach told Woods “there’s one way we’ll handle (the opt out) if it’s COVID related, then there’s one way we’re going to handle it if it’s joining the group.”
Woods informed Rolovich he’d be opting out for health reasons. Rolovich “explained to Woods that boycotting the season as part of the student-athlete group demands would likely be treated differently than opting out for personal health reasons related to COVID,” WSU and Rolovich claim in their rebuttal to the suit.
Woods indicated he intended to stay at WSU and participate in team workouts, but was not comfortable traveling.
“Rolovich then informed Woods that he could not participate in team functions if he had elected to opt out of the season,” the coach and WSU said in their court filing.
“Rolovich also explained that a consequence of opting out meant Woods would need to clean out his locker because limiting the number of people in and around the team increased the likelihood of actually having a season and would allow the team to dedicate its resources to those individuals still playing on game days.”
Woods also claimed in the lawsuit that he didn’t have the option to receive meals normally provided to players because campus was closed to nonathletes.
WSU acknowledged that Woods “did not receive meals in the same way players who had not opted out of the upcoming season received meals.”
WSU and Rolovich cite an interview between school president Kirk Schulz and 247Sports.com, in which Schulz is “quoted as saying the situation has been blown a little out of proportion and he indicated his willingness to talk with Woods.”
WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun met with Woods and his family using Zoom conference call with an attorney present, but Schulz and Woods never had a personal conversation. Chun has denied that Woods’ involvement with #WeAreUnited led to his dismissal from the team.
WSU fired Rolovich for cause Oct. 18 for failing to comply with a state COVID-19 vaccination mandate when his religious exemption application was denied. The coach is suing the school, claiming his firing was illegal.
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