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Former Nebraska Basketball Player Sues Former Coach For “Grooming”

In efforts to prevent instances of child sexual abuse, states and the federal government have started enacting criminal statutes prohibiting practices related to sexual “grooming.” Sometimes, these statutes come under criticism for ambiguity—it is not always clear when acts that encourage a minor to put faith in an adult are done with innocent intent or the intention to condition the minor to accept sexual contact.

The trend toward objecting to conduct that conditions someone in a vulnerable position to become predisposed to sexual advances is now appearing in cases involving older individuals. One example is in a case recently filed by a former Nebraska basketball player, Ashley Scoggin, who alleges that her former assistant coach groomed her for an improper sexual relationship during her time as a student-athlete and in doing so, violated Title IX.

Scoggins has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska against the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska, Head Coach Amy Williams, Assistant Head Coach Chuck Love, Jr., and the Director of Athletics at the University, Trev Alberts.

Overview of the Allegations

Head Coach Williams and Assistant Coach Love had over ten years of experience coaching together in different college environments. When Williams took the job as Head Coach at Nebraska in 2016, she brought Coach Love with her as an Assistant Coach. In her complaint, Scoggins asserts that the two coaches were close friends and that Williams knew or should have known that Love pursued sexual relationships with students despite the fact that he was married. 

Scoggins also asserts that Williams was aware of the harm caused by sexual relationships between student-athletes and professional coaches and knew that these relationships constituted “an abuse of professional ethics, status, and power.” Further, Scoggins insists that Williams was aware of the vulnerabilities of student-athletes who receive special attention from a coach. Yet Scoggins claims that Williams did not attempt to restrict Love’s interactions with student-athletes, and the Athletic Department similarly neglected to place restrictions on these interactions that “would prevent sexual predation.” Moreover, Scoggins claims that Williams failed to provide training for coaching staff and student-athletes on preventing sexual harassment or predation and that she failed to provide procedures that would enable student-athletes to report sexual harassment in a confidential setting where students could be free from the fear of retaliation.

How Grooming is Alleged to Have Occurred 

In his position as assistant head coach, Love recruited Scoggins to join the Nebraska team as a transfer student in 2020. She entered the team as a redshirt sophomore on a scholarship that covered tuition, housing allowance, access to trainers, medical care, a nutritionist, and “training table” meals. Her first season was successful, and she was named a finalist as the NCAA Division I Junior College Transfer of the Year. 

She secured an academic internship in the Athletic Department to pursue a career goal of coaching. Love invited her to work in his office. As they spent more time together, Love asked her regularly about personal matters, and Scoggins alleges she felt she was developing a friendship with an individual who could serve as her mentor. Love provided advice, academic coaching, individual practice sessions, and implicit promises of help with her career.

Then, according to the complaint, Love started regularly asking Scoggins to go out for drinks with him, sometimes sending messages through social media late at night and insisting that it was her “turn. ” The first time she accepted an invitation, he complained that she had not brought alcohol. When she later accepted another invitation and brought alcohol, he allegedly kissed her and asked whether she had ever “done anything” with a coach before.

Then Scoggins alleges she felt “trapped.” She feared that if she reported Love or turned down his sexual advances, she would face retaliation from Love and Williams. She alleges that Love created the perception that he could “make or break” her career as an athlete and future as a coach. They began a sexual relationship, and she asserts she was expected to be available on demand whenever she was summoned. She alleges that Love pressured her to engage in sex with an additional third partner and that when she refused, she was given less playing time on the team. 

Teammates suspected that an improper relationship was occurring and they obtained a hotel key under false pretenses to record video evidence of the relationship. When her teammates showed the video to Williams, the Head Coach called a team meeting during which Scoggins alleges that Williams encouraged teammates to berate her for hours. Scoggins alleges that she could not admit that she had been pressured into the relationship with Love watching her only inches away. She was suspended from the team and removed completely a few days later. Scoggins alleges that she was never informed of her rights under Title IX.

Title IX Action on Campus Incomplete

The school did not conduct any investigation into any of the incidents until Scoggins filed a Title IX complaint. Love resigned two months later, and the school’s Title IX Coordinator told Scoggins her complaint had been dismissed before the investigation was complete.  

Cause of Action Against the Head Coach and Director of Athletics

Among other assertions, in her lawsuit, Scoggins alleges that Williams as Head Coach and Alberts as Director of Athletics owed a duty to train coaching staff not to abuse their positions of authority and that they breached this duty, depriving Scoggins of her rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Her suit also alleges that their “policy of allowing coaches to abuse their authority to groom student-athletes for sexual relationships, and their failure to properly train and enforce policies for coaches and student-athletes on this point was so reckless that misconduct involving sexual misconduct by coaches was inevitable.”

Title IX Allegations Against the University

The Title IX allegations against the University include claims that the school’s failure to establish and enforce policies prohibiting sexual pursuit of students by coaches violated Scoggins’ Title IX rights. She also accused the school of acting with deliberate indifference toward her complaint of sexual harassment and further stated that the University’s pattern of behavior was designed to “discourage student-athletes who have been groomed into sexual relationships by coaches from seeking help.”

The University responded by denying all allegations and asserting that Scoggins failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective measures provided.

Did the Student Miss Out by Placing So Little Emphasis on Title IX?

The complaint focuses primarily on violations of other laws, yet the facts seem to align squarely with cases where complainants have been granted substantial relief on the basis of Title IX violations. In working with a local attorney who may not have been familiar with the nuanced requirements of Title IX, the former basketball player may have missed out by failing to describe Title IX violations in greater detail. 

The team at Duffy Law will be monitoring the court’s decision to see what happens next and how allegations of “grooming” are addressed by the federal courts in this context. If you have experienced a situation involving sexual misconduct in a potential violation of your Title IX rights, we invite you to contact us for a confidential consultation.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.