SPOKANE, Wash. — A former Washington State player contends in a lawsuit that his civil rights were violated when he was kicked off the football team after complaining about potential exposure to COVID-19 and for joining an association of Black student-athletes.
Kassidy Woods, a wide receiver from Addison, Texas, filed the lawsuit on Aug. 20 in federal court in Dallas.
He contends his rights were violated by Washington State and coach Nick Rolovich when he was kicked off the team last year. Woods seeks actual and punitive damages set by the court.
“Rolovich’s acts were racist, intentional, malicious, willful, wanton, and in gross and reckless disregard of Woods’ constitutional rights,” the lawsuit contends.
Woods entered the transfer portal last year and has landed at Northern Colorado.
“WSU Athletics is aware of the complaint and will not comment on any pending or on-going legal matter,” the Washington State athletic department said in a statement Wednesday.
Woods, who is Black, was heavily recruited by former coach Mike Leach and accepted a football scholarship in 2017. At WSU, Woods co-founded the Black Student Association and was active in a variety of leadership roles, the lawsuit said.
Rolovich replaced Leach in January 2020.
In June 2020, the school started asking athletes to voluntarily return to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic and participate in football-related activities, the lawsuit said. The school promised to take precautions to prevent athletes from catching COVID-19, the lawsuit said.
In July 2020, Woods, who carries the sickle cell trait and was susceptible to the virus, and another player met with Rolovich to discuss their concerns regarding the health risks associated with their athletic participation and the apparent lack of planning or testing, among other concerns, the lawsuit said. Their worries were confirmed when 60 student-athletes at WSU came down with COVID-19, the lawsuit said.
“Unfortunately, the promised environment of campus as the ‘safest place’ for athletes was a complete fabrication by Defendants,” the lawsuit said.
The players also discussed the #WeAreUnited movement — Pac-12 athletes identified in a social and racial justice group — with Rolovich as protests took place across the country.
On Aug. 1, 2020, Woods and Rolovich had an additional conversation about COVID-19 and Woods’ concerns for his own health. Woods told Rolovich that, because of his health concerns, he was going to opt out of the 2020 football season.
According to the lawsuit, Rolovich responded by asking if Woods was a part of #WeAreUnited, and Woods affirmed that he was. In response, Rolovich told Woods that opting out for health reasons was fine, but being involved with #WeAreUnited was a problem, the lawsuit said.
According to the court filings, Rolovich then immediately instructed Woods to clean out his locker and told Woods he could not be around the other players.
Woods then entered the NCAA transfer portal and he was notified by Washington State that his contract for athletic services would be terminated at the end of the fall semester.
Woods contends his First Amendment right to freedom of association was violated by the university, as was his 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. He also contends breach of contract by Washington State under a binding agreement requiring Woods to provide athletic services to the school in exchange for certain benefits, including housing, food and cash allowances.
Woods says the university violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which holds that no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.