A done deal, for now

A year ago it was a huge news story.

USF was sued by Dione Smith and 11 other former women’s basketball players and coaches for a sum that reached, at its peak, $10 million.

The plaintiffs alleged that head coach Jerry Ann Winters displayed racism towards her players, going so far as to segregate them in hotels and during team meals.

Subsequently, Winters was fired. USF athletic director Paul Griffin, who served in the post for 16 years, was forced to resign after an alleged cover-up.

The story garnered national attention in newspapers and on television. A report was featured on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble. High-profile lawyers soon came to be involved with the case.

In addition, the incident became the first scandal in USF president Judy Genshaft’s administration.

As late as last summer, USF was known nationally as an institution struggling with allegations of racism.

And then came Sept. 11. Names like Sami Al-Arian, Mazen Al-Najjar and John Loftus came to be known as the news-makers from USF and Tampa Bay. Nationally, USF came to be called “Terrorist U.”

Smith, Griffin and Winters slipped quietly off the media radar screen.

And then the story reemerged, quietly, late in the afternoon on a Friday before a holiday weekend. Genshaft announced that a settlement had been reached between USF and the plaintiffs.

According to the Tampa Tribune, public funds from the State Division of Risk Management will be used to shell out the near $300,000 settlement. Smith, who originally led the parade of lawsuits, will receive about $40,000. According to Winters’ lawyer’s memorandum, Smith may take home as little as $6,000, before taxes.

In a St. Petersburg Times report, Genshaft characterized the settlement as a “business decision.”

“This action allows us to bring this difficult matter to a close,” Genshaft said in the report. “We believe the cost to defend ourselves in court – both the financial costs as well as the emotional toll of this stressful controversy – would be far greater than the costs of the settlement.”

The story also states that Genshaft repeatedly denied allegations of discrimination during the news conference.

Smith began a seven-month upheaval in USF athletics in the summer of 2000. Barely five months later, Winters was asked to leave her post. As others gradually began to join as plaintiffs, Griffin stepped down as athletic director in March 2001 and took up the same position at Arkansas State. He has since resigned and is currently working as senior assistant athletic director at Georgia Tech.

The case against the university finally reached the point that the state of Florida entered its opinion into record.

Winters’ case was helped in July 2001when the state issued a report saying that the coach deserved to be reinstated and paid for lost wages. She has maintained her innocence throughout the ordeal.

Winters’ lawyer, John Goldsmith, issued her response. The response states that Smith held some 20 news conferences, and her lawyers reviewed 60 depositions and 10,000 pages of documents. The memorandum said that after the investigation, no evidence against Winters was found.

“Instead of uncovering evidence of racism, this discovery demonstrated (through Smith’s own teammates and friends) that Dione Smith hatched a plan early in her sophomore year to have Ms. Winters fired,” the memorandum said. “This was not because Dione Smith thought Ms. Winters was a racist, but because she disagreed with Ms. Winters’ playing style.”

The memorandum said as a part of the settlement, suits against Winters will be dropped, even though she’d prefer to let a judge rule on her case. But, the memorandum suggests, the case may yet see its day in court.

“Dione Smith cannot, however, attempt to use this dismissal to shield herself from Ms. Winters’ claims against her,” it said.In fact, Goldsmith suggested to the Times that a countersuit is virtually inevitable to clear Winters’ name.

“She will file her own lawsuit against them for asserting malicious and false allegations,” Goldsmith said.