Former Athlete Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Washington State

In Summary

Former Washington State football player Kassidy Woods wants the court to award him damages after he says he was removed for complaining about possible COVID-19 exposure.

Former Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods has filed a lawsuit against the university and the football coach, alleging his civil rights were violated when he was kicked off the team in August 2020, per the Associated Press

Woods says coach Nick Rolovich removed him from the team for complaining about possible COVID-19 exposure and joining #WeAreUnited, a Black student-athletes’ organization the defendant co-founded. 

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According to Woods’ lawsuit, the COVID-19 pandemic expanded across the United States two months after Rolovich joined the coaching staff in January 2020. The school began requesting athletes to return to campus to participate in football-related events the following June, under the promise to make efforts to prevent athletes from contracting COVID-19.  

Woods, who carries the sickle cell trait and is susceptible to the virus, was among athletes who started questioning the return, as many of the Black players started contracting COVID-19.

This came as protests erupted across the country in response to police brutality against Black people. 

Woods and another athlete met with Rolovich in July 2020 to discuss the #WeAreUnited movement and their concerns about the health risks involved with their sports participation, per USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer. A follow-up conversation took place in August, where Woods informed Rolovich he was opting out of the 2020 football season for health reasons. 

Rolovich then asked if Woods was a member of the #WeAreUnited movement, and according to the lawsuit, ordered him to clean out his locker and said he couldn’t be among the other players when Woods stated he was. 

In the lawsuit, Woods says the actions of coach Nick Rolovich “were racist, intentional, malicious, willful, wanton, and in gross and reckless disregard of Woods’ constitutional rights.” 

RELATED: Mental health best practices for the Black community, marginalized populations 

“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, per Schrotenboer. “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.” 

Woods says the plaintiffs violated both his First Amendment right to free speech and his 14th Amendment right to equal treatment under the law, as well as went against the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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