A former University of Florida varsity women's softball player who maintained she was kicked off the team by her conservative Christian coach because of her sexual orientation has reached an agreement with the school.
University officials said Tuesday that they will provide training to combat homophobia throughout the entire athletic department, including athletic directors, coaches, and staff. "I am thrilled that we have reached an agreement that will enable us to put this all behind us," said Andrea Zimbardi, the team captain who was let go from the team by coach Karen Johns. "My goal from the very beginning has been to help ensure that other gay and lesbian athletes at U.F. feel welcome, accepted, and judged solely on their talent. I love U.F. and am more proud than ever to be a Gator."
Zimbardi, an honor-roll student with no prior disciplinary problems, was suddenly kicked off the softball team in March. Two weeks before the decision, she and her parents had met with Johns and sports department officials and thought they'd settled their differences. But Johns decided to suspend Zimbardi because she believed the player was spreading misconceptions about the program, according to newspaper reports published at the time.
Zimbardi also alleged that Johns and her pitching coach--both of whom are married--renounced homosexuality, "outed" opposing lesbian players and coaches, stopped informing Zimbardi of team functions and, in Johns's case, imposed religious beliefs on the players, according to The Tampa Tribune. Two other former lesbian players, requesting anonymity, corroborated Zimbardi's charges in interviews with Outsports.com.
As part of the settlement, the school will also include a sexual orientation component in its annual nondiscrimination staff training, amend its nondiscrimination materials to include sexual orientation, submit an application to the NCAA for restoration of Zimbardi's final year of eligibility, and pay for Zimbardi's master's degree studies at the university.
"I am really impressed with how the university has addressed this situation," said Karen Doering, staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Zimbardi. "U.F. has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that all student athletes are treated fairly. Its new policies and training program are a model for other universities on how to effectively address allegations of homophobia and help prevent such incidents from occurring."