North Texas Daily

Track and field alumna gives SGA testimony on misconduct from head coach

Track and field alumna gives SGA testimony on misconduct from head coach

Track and field alumna gives SGA testimony on misconduct from head coach
September 16
14:50 2021

Alumna Tatum Catalani-Henderson attended Wednesday’s Student Government Association meeting to discuss her experiences of inappropriate and homophobic remarks from Head Coach Carl Sheffield, a matter the university ruled as ‘unsubstantiated’.

On Aug. 30, Catalani-Henderson posted a statement on Twitter about Sheffield’s inappropriate and discriminatory remarks.

“My head track coach at UNT told me that he would ‘have to think negatively’ of me if he knew that I was gay,” Catalani-Henderson said on Twitter.

Senators asked if there is a hostile environment that has been created by campus athletics, specifically on the track team.

“The implications of the words that [Sheffield] said, not only in my case but in others, makes it seem as if […] these are beliefs that he has no choice but to act upon,” Catalani-Henderson said. “So as far as his sexist, homophobic and racist remarks go, that is just the nature of what he says, and the connotations of the words that he chooses to use do make a very toxic and quite dangerous environment.”

The other cases that Catalani-Henderson referred to include Sheffield making racist remarks towards athletes of color.

Catalani-Henderson also told the SGA senate she had heard rumors about Sheffield engaging in xenophobic actions towards other people before she joined the team. At the time, Catalani-Henderson did not know what to believe.

“It became very clear to me as soon as I joined the team that these were very valid concerns because it was multiple people complaining about very different things,” Catalani-Henderson said. “For Coach Sheffield, there have been many instances in which people have brought up times that they feel as if he treated them poorly because of their sexual orientation. There’s been times that people have told me that they feel as if he makes racist remarks towards them and that he tries to kind of impose his beliefs upon them.”

Catalani-Henderson said she decided to speak out only after she left the team because Sheffield could have retaliated against her, jeopardizing her scholarship. She filed a report through the Office of Equal Opportunity. The investigation was ultimately ruled ‘unsubstantiated.’ 

“The fact that [coaches] have such power over you and control your scholarship and personal life in a way, it just creates a very, very dangerous environment for [student atheletes],” Catalani-Henderson said.

In response to questions from the senate, Catalani-Henderson said there has not been any disciplinary action taken against Sheffield.

According to university policy number 16.004, the school prohibits discrimination and harassment because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law in its application and admission processes, educational programs and activities, employment policies, procedures, and processes and university facilities.

Introduced by President Devon Skinner and Senator Maria Velasco, the Catalani-Henderson Resolution is a proposed piece of legislation that will protect student athletes from discrimination and harassment.

A specific clause says that multiple people have communicated privately to SGA members that Sheffield’s behavior was “reportedly not uncommon” and other disturbing statements have been made. These individuals only spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fears of losing their athletic scholarships.

SGA’s legislation asks that Sheffield’s employment be evaluated in a way that respects student athletes’ concerns.

The resolution notes that an appeals process to the OEO investigation was not communicated to Catalani-Henderson at the time of the ruling. The bill calls for a transparent and easy-to-access process in Title IX investigations that gives complainants the same rights to appeal as respondents.

The legislation also advocates for an independent audit to be conducted in the Title IX office to determine whether federal laws were violated in Catalani-Henderson’s investigation. It also calls for an independent audit to be conducted to determine the integrity of the athletics department. The bill asks for adequate actions to be taken to ensure that no student athletes face retaliation because of the resolution’s adoption.

Senators will vote for the Catalani-Henderson resolution next Wednesday.

“I personally would be the one to take it upon myself [to ensure the resolution’s effect on campus], of course,” Velasco said. “Devon, or any of you who would like to assist, following up with the departments, such as the Equal Opportunity office to Title IX office and Athletics.”

Featured Image: UNT track and field alumna Tatum Catalani-Henderson speaks at the Student Government Association meeting on Sept. 15, 2021. Photo by Bailey Jordan

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