Better Sooner Than Later? Oklahoma Coaches Claim Right to Discipline Players For Unpopular Viewpoints

There is an interesting case developing in the University of Oklahoma on free speech on campuses. Volleyball Player Kylee McLaughlin sued coaches Lindsey and Kyle Walton after she was allegedly excluded from the team for expressing conservative or unpopular views. What is notable is that, in the motion to dismiss, the coaches argue that they have a right, if not an obligation, to exclude players who are unpopular due to their views. According to the complaint, they further suggested that such action prepares “Sooner” athletes for the real world. While the case has drawn little attention beyond the site The College Fix, it raises serious issues for academia and free speech (as well as an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim).McLaughlin was the OU team captain and first team All-Big 12 selection in 2018 and 2019. However, according to the OU Daily, she drew the ire of fellow students after the team showed the Netflix documentary “13th.” McLaughlin reportedly said, while “she agreed 100% that slavery was wrong,” she thought the film was “slanted left.” She also thought that the film went out of its way to criticize then-U.S. President Donald Trump. She also stated, in response to another aspect of the film, that “Black incarceration was higher than other racial groups while representing a smaller overall percentage of the population.”Later McLaughlin objected on Twitter to the University of Texas’ move to drop its school song “The Eyes of Texas.” Lindsey Walton “urg[ed] her to delete [the] tweet” and explained that “I can’t save you when you get into the real world when you leave here.”  Kyle Walton was reportedly more direct and told her “[I’m] not sure I can coach you anymore.” In the end, McLaughlin apologized to the Texas volleyball players and its head coach for the tweet.However, the damage was done and McLaughin was effectively declared persona non grata. She was reportedly given the option of transferring schools, keeping her scholarship as a student, or “redshirting for the season and practicing separately without her teammates throughout the year.” (McLaughlin ultimately transferred from OU to Ole Miss).What was notable about the motion to dismiss was this argument:

“While Plaintiff was free to make bigoted statements, she was not free from the consequences of how her teammates perceived those statements,” the Waltons’ motion states. “The First Amendment cannot force her teammates to trust Plaintiff or desire to play with her. Consequently, the Complaint makes clear that 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 implications of this argument are chilling.  It would suggest that any unpopular athlete can be — and should be — excluded to “cultivate a winning team.”  (Notably, the Sooners ended the 2020-21 season with a 4-14 record and went 3-11 in Big 12 play.)

There are a great number of reasons why a player could be unpopular. Indeed, this argument was once used against minority students to preserve team “cohesion” or “identity.” In this case, McLaughlin was excluded not because of her athletic skills (which were obviously considerable) but her unpopular viewpoints.

In another remarkable twist, the coaches argue that the lawsuit to protect free speech is itself a threat to free speech. They rely on Oklahoma’s broad anti-SLAPP act. 1 12 O.S. § 1430, et seq, which is meant to “encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.” 12 O.S. § 1430. So, by allegedly threatening and sanctioning as student, the coaches allege that they are protected under the law.

The Board of Regents also filed a motion to dismiss. It is based primarily on an Eleventh Amendment claim of immunity. The university argues that:

“Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) amounts to nothing more than an inimical rant targeting several characters—parties and nonparties alike—for difficult conversations that followed the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide discussions of social injustice and inequality in America. Plaintiff states that she has been branded a racist and a homophobe by the Defendants. It was only after the Complaint was filed that Plaintiff received the attention complained about: in other words, Plaintiff caused her own harm.”

The university also insists that there was no concrete harm committed on campus by the university: “While the Complaint’s digressive nature espouses instances of roommates, teammates, and third level hearsay, Plaintiff can point to no conduct by the University or its officials in retaliation to on campus free expression.”

The two motions to dismiss clearly have some inherent conflict. The coaches are suggesting that they could — and should — exclude some players due to unpopular beliefs while the Board is arguing that there was no official retaliation for McLaughlin’s viewpoints. However, motions to dismiss often state extreme positions to show a lack of merit in a claim. Here the coaches are saying that, even if they did what McLaughlin said, they would have been in the right to do so.

The argument goes too far for me from a free speech standpoint. It would suggest that a BLM supporter or a pro-life supporter could be excluded over a lack of cohesion with a team. I fail to see the limiting principle.
On the torts question, it could be challenging to prove an intentional infliction of emotional dismiss. However, this will depend greatly on the discovery in the case. For a motion to dismiss, the court must assume the fact in favor of the non-moving party. Thus, it could be difficult for the court to dismiss the case without allowing full discovery absent a threshold jurisdictional or immunity defense like the one raised by the Board of Regents.


91 thoughts on “Better Sooner Than Later? Oklahoma Coaches Claim Right to Discipline Players For Unpopular Viewpoints”

  1. Comments by Currentitsguy, UpstateFarmer and others below raise some great points and give us a much more equitable way to think about this.

    By all accounts Kylee McLaughlin was an accomplished student athlete and recognized leader of the OU women’s volleyball team. Kylee was run of town by the wife-husband coaching duo of Lindsey Gray-Walton and Kyle Walton. With the full support of the University and its president, Joseph Harroz. Young Kylee has to upend her life while Mr. and Mrs. Walton get a table of honor in the faculty lounge and, by contract, Harroz flies business class on his international junkets.

    The Waltons deliberately injected politics into the volleyball team. Sure, they like to pretend that they’re all about love, rainbows and ponies. No, the Waltons CREATED a divisive situation, one which they knew would force dissenters to submit or be shunned. Kylee did what student athletes are taught to do – to speak her mind, to be a leader. For that, Kylee was run out of town. She showed a lot more leadership than the Waltons, the new heroes of the faculty lounge. Or Harroz, OU’s nominal leader. Who, by the way, draws a $500,000 salary, with the promise of a one-year paid sabbatical and a tenured faculty position as the highest paid faculty member at the law school if his position as president is terminated. Other than a federal judge, that about as close as anyone will get to lifetime guaranteed employment.

    The only way to stop this, and to prevent more and more Kylee Mclaughlin’s from having their lives destroyed, is to hold the Waltons, Harroz, and the other administrators in the chain of command, personally liable for their conduct. Not only should they lose their jobs, but they should answer personally to Kylee and others like her in damages.

    I’m starting to think that the Democrats are on to something. We SHOULD abolish qualified immunity. But NOT for the police. For university administrators who sow political division, squelch dissent, and trample the lives of the students for whom they are responsible. That is the only way to stop this nonsense.

    1. You are correct, but this is not a situation where qualified immunity applies. It’s not even a close call.

  2. Both the letter & spirit of Title 18 US Code 245 (and similar statutes) make it a federal crime to violate anyone’s constitutional rights. Not just public universities but there is a provision that also applies to “private” authority officials in civil rights laws.

    Since 9 people on the U.S. Supreme Court can’t police the massive scale of civil rights and constitutional violations, we need greater enforcement. Any law that is unenforceable is meaningless without enforcement.

    Both Republicans and Democrats should support strengthening the DOJ Civil Rights Division and other watchdog agencies to start enforcing this law breaking. Public professors are government officials legally bound by the First Amendment. Students are private citizens with rights. Where’s the federal cops?

    1. I disagree with one point you raise…the absence of a “limiting principle”. The limiting principle is obvious and can be stated succinctly: “It’s better to be a Democrat”

  3. Another good example of how colleges and universities have been taken over by leftist racists who have been duped by years of lies taught in spurious courses.

  4. Who is a Bigot? Could they be Pharisaic Bullies? These two questions address this issue straight on. Coaches Lindsey and Walton are without a doubt both. A bigot could be defined as intolerant, narrow minded and unfair, all used in deification of Woke. A Pharisaic Bully is sanctimonious or more closely defined to this discussion, Holier-than Thou. To sit in a leadership position of a subordinate casting aspersions’ (vilification), and dispersing them as if they where trash is unconscionable. These coaches and administrators truly fit the definition of intolerants, and are on the road to the Perdition (a state of final spiritual ruin and loss of the soul) in their continued worship of WOKE.

    1. Critical Racists’ Theory presumes diversity [dogma] (i.e. color judgment). Woke and [morally] broke.

      That said, diversity of individuals, minority of one. Baby Lives Matter

  5. What is notable is that, in the motion to dismiss, the coaches argue that they have a right, if not an obligation, to exclude players who are unpopular due to their views. According to the complaint, they further suggested that such action prepares “Sooner” athletes for the real world.

    Does this logic follow the power hierarchy? Your supervisor can fire for unpopular views?
    Why is it college educated persons are so clueless about life? A collage education cost to much because it broadened a students view point.
    But now its nothing but brainwashing. In the narrowest possible manner.

  6. Everything is wrong about this. Does no one in this country understand the right of free speech any more? Do the people trying to shut down opposing views understand how close they are to policies implemented by history’s most murderous dictators? When so many of our young people and the adults teaching them seem to have lost all perspective of what it means to live in a free country, I can’t help but feel all is lost.

    1. Think Hungary, Carplaw. Hungary is where you can be fee and cheerful again. Just listen to what Tucker Carlson said of Hungary:

      “If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families, and the ferocious assault on all three of those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what is happening here right now.”

  7. It should be clear to everyone the only sensible thing to do is to have the Chamberlin Rock from the University of Wisconsin moved University of Oklahoma & have the rock sat on top of these idiot coaches heads.

    That would shut up those racist commie coaches down here.

  8. I agree with another poster, what does the documentary have to do with volleyball, the team or the coaches?
    It appeared to have generated a degree of open debate and conversation, which is what is to be expected at colleges.
    Or used to be.
    But in this case, rather then respect the students opinion or point of view, and agree to disagree, she was punished for it.

    Everyone is entitled to their 1stA right.
    Or so it used to be.

    I found the idea of the coach “saving her” when she gets into the real world absurd. If anything the coach showed the player first hand exactly how hard and brutal life can be.

    1. Correction: ” If anything the coach showed the player first hand exactly how hard and brutal life can be, especially at the hands of those in power.”

  9. If the coaches were truly concerned about team cohesion, they should have avoided showing that film. The coaches injected politics into what should have been a politics-free zone. It was they, not Kylee, who jeopardized team cohesion.

  10. This appears to have free speech implications. If you are effectively ” punished ” for what you say or think that is antithetical to any form of a free society. And it never ceases to amaze me how some on this blog turn the ” water is wet” argument into a never ending referendum on
    Trump. He is out of office. He cannot effect your life. If others seem to ” follow him” your argument is with them.
    I would be more concerned with a President that thinks more people are vaccinated than our entire population.

  11. Read a Gen. Patton quote today that resonates with me on this topic. “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

  12. There are two problems with the situation, one is the treatment and harm to the student and the other is the fact that the viewpoint of the coach is wrong and indeed stupid. Kicking the student off the team and out of school is a “process” injustice but the pc assumptions of coaches are “content” related and irresponsibly moronic. Just because process harms can be dealt with in civil and sometimes criminal courts and content stupidity almost always is legally permitted does not free the content from severe criticism. I notice that even conservative commentators sometimes miss this point. Consider the Cultural Revolution in China where the process harms consisted of beating, torturing and imprisoning those who were politically incorrect. But the content (Communist Maoism) behind the process motivation was really bad. Content and process affect each other – the deeper one sinks into the abyss of extreme ideology the more one feels justified in more intensive process harms. Today, like this example, free and more honest speech is routinely dealt with by attempts to cancel the offender. Cancelling is awful process, but let’s not lose sight of the awful content of racially divisive thought behind it. Its a double whammy of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

    1. -RD,
      Well said.
      I think your comparison to Maoism, perhaps a lite version of it so far, is apt with cancel culture.

      Perhaps that is why Professor Turley has created this blog. To point out the threat to the free speech we are seeing.

  13. Why did the coaches feel compelled to show the team a documentary that has nothing to do with players improving the game? What does that have to do with a bouncing ball?

    In cult methods “systems of influence” is a means to teach members to bring attitudes and thoughts into conformity and to shape group culture and group norms. Leadership pressure, peer pressure, self renunciation and modeling are used for the desired effect of conformity.

    One could argue that sports teams are in fact cults. But what happens on the playing field and how one thinks personally off the field or court is another matter.

    She should be applauded for her ability to critically assess the excessive use of coercion.

    This is where alumni can bring pressure on the school by cutting donations. Universities, with exception of a few, are short of funds.,

    This, in my view, has more to do with harassment of a non-conformist, a person who can think for themselves than a particular social issue. Group think is unchallenged thinking.

    1. It appears that the film shown, was an outreach of Critical Race Theory. It divides people into victims and oppressors. To say that this prepares the players for real life is absurd. The U.S. is the freeist society in the world today, and everyone has a chance to live their dream. To teach hatred and divisiveness is somehting that was done during the time of slavery and has no place in today’s society, even if it gives people of color a taste of what it was to be white when slavery existed. CRT is like a get even for past grievances theory, wlhich will only bring more hatred and strife and never make America a better place, but will eventually destroy all that was accomplished in this great nation.

      1. Wise Old Owl,

        You remind me of those Germans who refuse to forgive the Jews for the Holocaust because they are tired of hearing about it.

  14. “According to the complaint, they further suggested that such action prepares “Sooner” athletes for the real world.”

    No truer statement. The real world now is a world where the Constitution is being shredded and the liberties we’ve had for nearly 250 years are fast disappearing. Why else would the Left want to pack the Supreme Court and add over 200 Fed judges if not to destroy the last line of defense for the Constitution?

    1. Suze,

      Tucker Carlson says Hungary is the country where you want to move for Christian values and real freedom.

      1. Jeff, WTF does Carlson have to do with what is happening at OU? Some on this blog have given new meaning to the term” non sequitur “.
        I don’t know how busy you are but this might save some time.
        Just continue to cut and paste:
        Fox News, Fox News, Fox News
        Tucker, Tucker, Tucker Tucker
        Trumpist, Trumpist,Trumpist,
        Turley works for Fox, Turley works for Fox, Turley works for Fox. Turley works for Fox.
        I think that about covers it.

          1. Jeff, no you are not. Unlike some of those who are thin skinned on the Left, I NEVER get ” triggered “, I am NEVER a victim of a ” microaggression “. And I NEVER need a ” safe space “.
            But my advice for you regarding the saving of time aside, what does Tucker have to do with OU?

            1. Paul,

              I’m relieved that you are unflappable! Suze was bemoaning the state of affairs in America. I had watched Carlson remarking that he met American expats finding a safe space in Hungary. Carlson wants the Illiberal Democracy model to come to America. If you can’t wait that long, Hungary is welcoming Americans!

                1. I have been to Buda and Pest. Those who have been there know what I mean. I prefer Buda. Yes, I would agree with you unless you have a hankering for ghoulash. On the other hand, Orban has written:

                  “We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim…. That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots.”

                  That ethno-nationalistic attitude is intoxicating to Trumpists which explains Carlson’s unabashed praise and admiration for the “Trump of the European Union.”

  15. They are no longer “teams.” They are tribes. This is cult-like behavior. Everyone must think and speak alike, or the “cohesion” of the tribe is in danger. We are beyond Orwell at this point. Science fiction has become reality.

  16. A couch is a couch
    He’s a couch all the way!
    From his first cigarette to his last dying day!

    That day will be sooner than others will get.
    The others that don’t smoke that dumb cigarette!

  17. Sounds like OU is trying to get Grants from the Biden Administration.

  18. This is exactly the same rationale used to segregate the armed forces and government bureaucracy until the 1950s and later. Tyranny is tyranny

  19. I guess my question is why is a sports coach even talking about political issues to a team in the first place?

  20. It would be swell if Turley informed us what additional negative repercussions may follow bad speech because he only mentions “more speech” as a remedy. In lieu of impeachment, he did propose Congress censuring Trump for what he condemned as his “reckless” 1/6 oration. When are offended listeners permitted to shun, shame or ostracize speakers of bad speech? EVER? Under Trumpism, it would seem that offended listeners no longer have the freedom to do so.

    1. That’s how free speech works. Offended listeners are irrelevant. At no time in in humanity has everyone agreed on anything. There has always been offended listeners. If I was the judge my response would be: embrace the suck. 😜

      1. jeffsilberman:

        Everyone can potentially feel uncomfortable because of some speech, and thus, if the criterion for limiting speech is how someone feels, no speech would be protected. We should be teaching people how to ignore speech they do not like or how to respond with better speech. I think though, the vast majority of Americans are ignoring speech they do not like. News coverage could be creating the impression that many Americans are investing time and energy into policing speech.

        1. Steve Brown,

          I’m not advocating for censorship. I’m asking whether citizens are no longer free to respond to bad speech by good old fashion shunning, shaming and ostracizing those who engage in it? Is good speech the only tool in society’s tool box to confront bad speech? I don’t think good speech is going to work in all cases.

          I do ignore a lot of people on this blog as you suggest. Ignoring presumes that you refuse to read/listen, by turning the channel or walking away. How long are we obliged to ignore or look away before we may say to the speaker that we have heard enough? Is it really necessary to listen once more to, say, a Nazi skinhead’s denial of the Holocaust, before we may tell him to remove himself from our earshot and take his bad speech to those willing to listen? Isn’t good speech unnecessary by now for such obvious anti-semitism?

          1. jeffsilberman:

            Speech that many find distasteful tend to be episodic, that is, not relentless, and therefore, can be easily ignored. So, what if five Nazi sympathizers march once a year on main street? Recognize that they have the right, ignore them, or stand by as they march with your own sign saying “we disagree with you but support your right to march”. If one becomes heated and upset, that only increases the victory margin of the Nazis!

            I cannot think of any speech directed at me or my group that would ever cause me to engage the speaker. No point in elevating the speaker.

            1. Steve Brown,

              Shunning, shaming and ostracizing Nazis is never appropriate?

          2. I’m not advocating for censorship. — jeffsilberman

            Sure you are…

            I’m asking whether citizens are no longer free to respond to bad speech by good old fashion shunning, shaming and ostracizing those who engage in it? — jeffsilberman

            What you want is groupthink of the “you are either with us or against us” variety.

            So, let’s pose a hypothetical question: In your view, is it permissible to discuss Israel’s ongoing and brutal repression of the Palestinians? Or does that constitute antisemitism? Or how about support for the BDS movement in order to bring about a change in Israel’s racist policies?

            “Strange times are these in which we live, when old and young are taught in falsehood’s school. And the one man who dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.” — Plato (429-347 BC)

            1. Similarly, to discuss palestinian sympathizers brutal oppression of Israelis and people under the palestinian yoke for nearly a century, starting with marches against Jews, continuing with wars against Israelis, progressing with a failed coup in the second state, and sustained with rabid diversity under a banner of social justice.

              1. Yes, Israel is oppressed — the mainstream media, both left and right, tell us so every day.

                “To find out who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise”. — Voltaire

            2. Spanky says:

              “So, let’s pose a hypothetical question: In your view, is it permissible to discuss Israel’s ongoing and brutal repression of the Palestinians? Or does that constitute antisemitism? Or how about support for the BDS movement in order to bring about a change in Israel’s racist policies?”

              I love hypotheticals, but these aren’t. These are merely questions. That’s ok. I’ll take a stab at them:

              1. Absolutely.
              2. Not at all.
              3. Not anti-Semitic.

              Hypotheticals begin with “suppose” or “what if.”Try again some time. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it!

          3. Curious, Silberman says that he ignores others on this blog but he always seems to have an answer to those who criticizes his thinking at the ready. He even makes a dishonest statement about himself. I’m starting to feel a pain of compassion because he may not realize what he is doing. Then again, maybe to Jeff using whatever twist the moment demands is part of the game he so passionately is addicted to playing.

            1. TiT,

              I ignore S.Meyer and John Say and George and n.n. You want me to add you to the list?

    2. “offended listeners” — You mean anyone who disagrees with your opinion? Have you thought about the many people you must offend? What are we to do about that?

    3. What exactly is “bad speech”? Is that a legal term? Do not think so. It’s a personal attack relying on a mistaken belief of moral superiority, just like shunning, shaming and ostracizing. Offended listeners have the same right to free speech as the person supposedly doing the offending. And the person doing the offending is probably just as, if not more so, offended by the personal attacks. Better we stick to the facts and discuss the merits of an argument than resort to first grade name calling.

      1. Johanna,

        “Bad speech” is a concept which Turley uses all the time. It’s not a legal term. Bad speech would be racist or anti-Semitic or harmful rhetoric. So it seems that you too don’t believe in the concepts of shunning, shaming and ostracizing hateful people like a self-avowed White Supremacist who uses the n-word? Better we discuss the merits of White Supremacy?

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