April 25, 2012

Affection sparks controversy

When freshman Hadley Gephart and senior Audrey Todd were approached by a Campus Safety officer at the April 19th home softball game against Augustana College, they expected they would be told to move from their seats in the outfield. Instead, the request for their removal raised questions of communication and appropriate handling regarding disruptive behavior at sporting events.

Gephart and Todd, who were sitting near the scoreboard in right field and kissing, were told by a Campus Safety officer that they would have to leave the game. Initially, Todd thought it was because of a safety issue, but she soon learned that it was due to their behavior.

“It was the middle of the game, and I noticed that there were two people behaving disrespectfully in the outfield,” softball Head Coach Ashley Sims said. “I didn’t want them to be a distraction to the game.”

Although suspicions of homophobia initially abounded, Todd and Gephart said they no longer wish to accuse anyone of discrimination, as the issue has been shown to be mainly one of miscommunication.

“I wanted them moved, not removed,” Sims said.

There is some discrepancy over where exactly the women were sitting and how visible it was to spectators and players. Sims claimed that they were directly under the scoreboard, where they would have been easily noticeable; Gephart said that they were behind it.

“I actually thought it was a good spot because we’re not on the field,” Todd said. “I thought, ‘This is good because the ball isn’t going to be hit through the scoreboard.’”

Still, Gephart emphasized that the “where” question was not nearly as important as how Sims approached the situation.

“The way it was handled was wrong … That’s the problem,” Gephart said. “I wouldn’t be upset about this or fighting this if I thought I had just been in the wrong place.”

Usually, either Athletic Director Chad Eisele or Fitness Center Director Melissa Joseph would have been at the game to speak with Gephart and Todd, but scheduling conflicts meant that Sims had to address the incident by herself.

“We had a young coach who didn’t know exactly what to do, and it was really a perfect storm scenario,” Eisele said. “We didn’t mean for it to happen.”

While talking to Sims after the game, Todd learned that people had been heckling her and Gephart. It was not until later that she would find out that the complaint came from the other team.

“Players on the opposing team noticed what was going on,” Eisele said. “If we’d seen someone in the crowd saying something negative, they would certainly have been removed.”

Originally, Sims wanted Gephart and Todd to be moved, but something was lost in translation, and the campus safety officer she told informed the women that they would have to leave the game. Sims later talked with Todd to help clear up the miscommunication.

“In the middle of a game, there’s a lot going on, and as a coach, I have to be focused on my team and the game,” Sims said. “I tried to make it clear to her that the issue was what was going on, not who was involved.”

In the future, Eisele and Joseph hope to better coordinate their schedules so that one of them will be at every game. The college will also be contacting the softball coach at Augustana and requesting that she speak with her players.

“People should be allowed to kiss at a softball game without people heckling,” Todd said.

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