A former Amherst College men’s lacrosse coach who was fired before he coached a game for the school alleged Friday in a federal lawsuit that he became a victim of Amherst’s “cozy relationship with elitism, discrimination, and racism.”
Rashad Devoe, who is Black, had two years remaining on a three-year contract when Amherst fired him in June after an investigation into allegations that he verbally mistreated team members who had purportedly violated Amherst’s COVID-19 restrictions by informally practicing on a school green.
Devoe alleges he also was wrongfully terminated for refusing to participate in a school investigation of discrimination and racial profiling against three Black student-athletes at Amherst, a men’s lacrosse player and two men’s basketball players. He says he reported the alleged discrimination but school officials declined to assure him they would protect him and the students from “retaliation and continued discrimination.”
Devoe declined to comment publicly.
Amherst’s chief communications officer Sandy Genelius said, “We have reviewed the complaint filed yesterday on behalf of Mr. Rashad Devoe against Amherst College and categorically refute the allegations about the college’s decisions and motives in the matter. Amherst highly values and actively promotes diversity, inclusion, and respect. We have a majority minority student body, an increasingly diverse faculty and staff, and a community dedicated to the work of inclusion. Our work is continual and ongoing. We are confident that a full legal review of the complaint will support our position that it is without merit.”
The lawsuit is the latest blow to Amherst’s embattled men’s lacrosse team, which only two years earlier had advanced to the NCAA championship game for the first time in school history. The lacrosse program is in crisis as players have transferred, parents have expressed outrage, and recruits are wary of enrolling in the elite small private liberal arts college.
On Wednesday, the school announced Colorado College’s Sean Woods as its new men’s lacrosse coach. Woods, a Newport, R.I., native and former assistant at Brown, led the school to eight NCAA Division 3 tournament appearances in 10 years, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time this past season.
Last year, Amherst fired Jon Thompson, the longtime coach who guided the lacrosse team to the Division 3 title game, over a racial incident that Amherst president Biddy Martin characterized as emblematic of a lacrosse culture that “repeatedly violates standards of human decency,” in part by engaging in racism, anti-Semitism, and misogynism.
Thompson was quickly hired as an assistant coach at the United States Air Force Academy. Sources familiar with his departure said Amherst paid him a sizable settlement to avoid possible litigation.
The Globe’s attempts to reach Thompson were unsuccessful.
Devoe was the head coach at Hampton University when, he alleges, Amherst invited him to apply to succeed Thompson, who is white. When the school hired Devoe in 2020, after the lacrosse team had been placed on probation because of an alleged racial incident, he was instructed to clean up the program and the school’s damaged reputation, his lawsuit asserts.
“Amherst College promised to fully support Coach Devoe and his staff in trying to change the racist and, frankly, elitist demeanor that had historically permeated the college’s lacrosse program,” his lawsuit states.
“Unfortunately, when push came to shove, the college’s true color broke through the smoke and mirrors,” Devoe alleges.
His lawsuit states, “Amherst College ignored and tried to silence Coach Devoe, undermining, retaliating against, and punishing him for following NCAA, [conference], Amherst College rules and the instructions given to him.”
Numerous parents interviewed by the Globe criticized Devoe’s coaching style. They said his approach, even if it was mandated by the school, was overly aggressive, verbally threatening at times, disruptive, and divisive.
“Things got really ugly,” said the Rev. Jay Hutchinson, an Amherst alumnus who played lacrosse and whose son, Jack, was a member of the team under Devoe.
By all accounts, the relationship between Devoe and the team deteriorated. Devoe blames the administration for undercutting his authority. He asserts that Amherst silenced him “from expressing his opinions on recruiting players and [did] not allow him to discipline players, cut players who failed to follow team rules, communicate with players, hire his staff, raise money for the lacrosse program, or communicate with alumni.”
Devoe also was alleged to have made a sexually-charged, misogynistic comment to a member of the lacrosse team about some female Amherst students. Devoe denies the allegation in his lawsuit.
Parents said members of the lacrosse team interviewed the final four candidates to succeed Thompson and advised the administration against hiring Devoe. At least two other candidates also were Black.
Hutchinson said school officials “didn’t believe in their own students and went ahead and did exactly what they said wasn’t a good move, and here’s what happened.”
He and others criticized the school’s handling of incidents involving the lacrosse program. They included a Black player allegedly punching one of three teammates who shouted the n-word at him and his Black female student companion in the suite they shared in 2020.
Two years earlier, a lacrosse player partying with teammates was allegedly found passed out with a Swastika drawn on his head.
The lacrosse team’s supporters describe the incidents as isolated, alcohol-spurred exceptions in a program that Thompson had generally run commendably. They accused the administration of unfairly punishing the team after the alleged perpetrators of the racial and anti-Semitic incidents had graduated.
“I’m not saying there weren’t mistakes made by the students,” Hutchinson said. “But from the perspective of an alum, I felt that every maneuver that was made by the athletic department, the head of athletics, and by the president of the college were CYA maneuvers.”
Devoe, too, felt unfairly punished, to the point that he was traumatized and suffered extreme emotional distress and required mental health care, according to his suit. He chronicles a history of incidents and cases in which Amherst allegedly failed to “to effectively address racism, misogyny, sexual violence, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.”
Devoe says his contract called for him to receive an annual salary of $90,000, $375 per month for a housing subsidy, and eligibility for $1,500 in annual travel and professional development support through 2023, with the possibility of being promoted to senior coach status in 2032.
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.