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Former Washington State football receiver Kassidy Woods has filed a federal lawsuit against WSU and its head coach, Nick Rolovich, accusing them of breach of contract, violating his civil rights and covering up COVID-19 cases in athletics.
Woods, who recently transferred from WSU to Northern Colorado, left the team last year after a public spat with Rolovich stemming from his decision to opt out of the 2020 season because of health concerns related to the pandemic, according to the lawsuit.
When Rolovich and Woods had a conversation about this in August 2020, the lawsuit said Rolovich “responded not to Woods’ health concerns, but by asking if Woods was a part of the #WeAreUnited group,” a group of players that was advocating for social and racial justice issues, including pandemic safety protocols.
After Woods confirmed his involvement, he said Rolovich asked him to clear out his locker because his involvement with that group would send “mixed messages to the team.”
“Rolovich’s message is clear and further demonstrates Defendants’ actions under the color of state law to chill public discourse on matters of social and racial justice,” Woods’ lawsuit states. “To Defendants, if a player is on social media and posts regarding players who have opted out, or is supportive of #WeAreUnited and then opts out of playing for any reason, that player’s athletic services contract funds will be terminated unless that player expressly and publicly takes a stance in opposition of the #WeAreUnited movement.”
The lawsuit seeks punitive and actual damages for the harm to Woods’ athletic career, such as “lost scholarships and lost educational opportunities as a result of defendants’ unlawful conduct.”
WSU issued a statement Wednesday that said it was aware of the complaint but will not comment on any pending or ongoing legal matter.
The suit was filed Aug. 20 in Dallas, near Woods’ hometown of Addison, and becomes the latest public controversy involving Rolovich, who has declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19 at a university that requires it. In July, he was the only head coach in the Pac-12 Conference to not attend a media day event in person because of his refusal to abide by the vaccination requirement. Under a new state mandate in Washington, he faces additional new pressure to get vaccinated unless he cites a medical or religious exemption. Rolovich said he will follow the state mandate but has not said he will get vaccinated. He said the reasons for his decision are private.
In his lawsuit, Woods described a culture of covering up COVID issues. Woods said he has sickle cell trait, which heightened his risk from exposure to the virus.
“Not only were athletes already testing positive for COVID-19 without notification to other players, Woods’ own roommate had been exposed just two days prior to Woods’ arrival on campus,” the lawsuit states. “Woods’ roommate indicated to Woods that roughly 10 football players had tested positive at that time. His roommate felt that Woods should know about the positive cases even though Defendants 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.”
Washington State finished the 2020 season with a 1-3 record after the season opener was delayed until November because of the pandemic. Woods last played in 2019, when he caught six passes for 58 yards as a redshirt freshman.
Last September, after WSU revealed that 60 athletes had tested positive for the COVID-19, the lawsuit states that those cases “occurred during the time that WSU was ordering athletes to conceal the truth or otherwise face retaliation and to abstain from support of the #WeAreUnited movement that questioned this very activity and demanded change.”
After entering the transfer portal, the lawsuit states Woods was notified almost immediately by WSU that his “contract for athletic services” would be prematurely terminated at the end of the fall semester.”
The suit also references a phone call he recorded with Rolovich from August 2020, when they discussed his decision to opt out and #WeAreUnited. The recording was leaked to news media last year.
“OK so that’s going to be, that’s gonna be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff, cause the COVID stuff is one thing,” Rolovich said on the call, according the lawsuit’s transcript. “But, um, joining this group is gonna put you on a, on a — that’s obviously, you know, you get to keep your scholarship this year, but it — it’s gonna be different. You know, if you, if you say, ‘I’m opting out ‘cause of COVID and health and safety,’ I’m good. But this group is gonna change, uh, I guess, how things go in the future for everybody, at least at our school.”
WSU released a statement from Rolovich last year after the recording came out.
“Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Washington State coach Nick Rolovich sued by ex-player Kassidy Woods