In 2014, then-UConn women’s soccer freshman Noriana Radwan flipped off the ESPNU camera in a fit of excitement after the Huskies won their conference championship. I don’t think it reveals too much bias to say the act was, however shocking (not that shocking), effectively harmless.
But, the delicate sensibilities of TV sports fans being what they are, UConn quickly issued a statement to media outlets, including Deadspin, “to apologize for an inappropriate gesture.” In the statement, Coach Len Tsantiris assured traumatized viewers that Radwan had been “indefinitely suspended from all team activities, including participation in UConn’s upcoming NCAA tournament games.”
This pearl-clutching overreaction was perhaps typical enough, but the penalty didn’t stop there. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Radwan, now a junior at Hofstra, details how the school stripped her of her scholarship in the middle of the year, without warning or due process, and threatened retaliation if she appealed the decision.
The suit levies violations of Radwan’s right to due process, civil rights, violation of scholarship contract, and violation of Title IX against UConn, coach Tsantiris, UConn’s former athletic director Warde Manuel, and a financial aid officer.
The suit alleges that her punishment began immediately following the on-field celebration:
Plaintiff tried to apologize and explain her conduct, and despite Defendant Tsantiris acknowledging to the Plaintiff that he had no problems with the Plaintiff’s attitude and that he knew she did not mean it, and that it was, as he said a “silly mistake,” because it was all over the Internet and television, Defendant Tsantiris said he unfortunately had to punish her by suspending the Plaintiff from all team activities effective immediately removing her entirely from playing at all in the NCAA Championship Tournament no matter how far the team went.
Radwan claims she was initially led to believe that there would be no further punishment. The suit describes meeting with Manuel specifically to ask if the incident would impact her scholarship and quotes him as saying, “I have no intention of pulling your scholarship over this.”
In the weeks that followed, she delivered letters to her three coaches apologizing for her behavior that were never acknowledged and made plans for the Spring soccer season. On December 14, she received a call from Tsantiris revoking her full-ride scholarship. In an email sent to the coach a week later, she references an misleading earlier conversation saying, “You discussed your expectations of my performance in the spring season.”
“Further, you’ve advised me ‘to not attend UConn’ in the spring, but if I must go to school, to ‘take classes at a community college’? This doesn’t sound appropriate to me.”
In the same email, she indicated plans to “transfer for fall of 2015” but would appeal the decision to revoke her scholarship, “so I can have my chance to finish up my classes in May.”
In a series of phone calls, Tsantiris promised first to allow her back in the fall if she took the spring semester off. And later to provide transfer recommendations on the condition that she not appeal the loss of scholarship. The lawsuit alleges, “Defendant Tsantiris told her that if she appealed his decision that he would not help her transfer to another school and she would not be given a good recommendation.”
The suit hypothesizes that the school was motivated to go through with revoking her scholarship specifically so they could offer it to a varsity soccer player at Notre Dame that UConn was attempting to persuade to transfer. For what it’s worth, that player transferred to USC.
Radwan ignored Tsantiris’ threats of retaliation, but ultimately, her appeal was rejected on the grounds that she missed the cutoff (which, incidentally, she did; the suit alleges it was not made sufficiently clear). She transferred to Hofstra, where she has a three-quarters scholarship, but not before sending an email to UConn’s Assistant Athletic Director:
Now, I feel as if my whole life has been turned upside down. one minute I was excited and ready to come back in the Spring and turn my game around, and the next minute everything changes with one phone call. I have my classes already registered, my cleats ordered, and everything back at my dorm.
The school claims Radwan lost her scholarship because the middle finger qualified as “serious misconduct,” a classification the suit notes is usually reserved for violent crimes.
“It’s clear from the information I’ve gathered that there have been many other incidents of much more serious misconduct and nobody lost a scholarship over it,” Radwan’s lawyer Greg Tarone said at a press conference on Monday.
At the press conference Radwan, now 20, apologized again and said, “I loved UConn, but I lost faith in it as an institution when it allowed my scholarship to be illegally taken away so abruptly and crassly in the middle of the school year, violating all trust I had.”
You can read the full lawsuit below: