Deadspin Investigation: Another Brandeis basketball coach accused of racial animus toward Black players

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Five years after a Deadspin investigation prompted Brandeis University to fire its men’s basketball coach following allegations of blatant racism, the school finds itself once again facing allegations of racism, and unequal treatment, this time in its women’s basketball program.

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Deadspin has learned that, following an Administrative Formal Complaint (the Complaint) from the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and an investigation by the University, women’s basketball coach Carol Simon was found to have violated Brandeis’ Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual Violence, and another school code. According to a letter the University sent to the complaining witness (the witness) on May 17, 2023, the University determined that Simon used “the n-word in full while telling a story involving two Black men,” and that Simon “used her interpretation of what these two Black men sounded like while gesticulating.” Brandeis did not state what disciplinary action, if any, was taken against Simon in the letter, citing privacy concerns.

Allegations of racist behavior by a long-time coach

As stated in the Complaint and recounted to Deadspin by the witness: During a June 1, 2022 conversation between Simon, the witness, and an assistant coach in Simon’s office, Simon allegedly described an incident she had observed between two Black men, and used offensive gestures and racial stereotypes in telling what the men said to each other, including using the n-word. When confronted about her behavior by the witness on June 6, Simon reportedly defended herself by saying she was “just telling a story,” and repeatedly said “I hear you” in response to the criticism of her behavior, but did not apologize.

According to the witness, it was not the only time Simon has used racist language, and stereotypes about the Black community. According to allegations in the Complaint, Simon “used offensive ‘racist tropes’ to describe Black athletes, including that they were ‘uncoachable’ and ‘too dumb to learn the plays’” when speaking with colleagues in the Athletic Department during the 2019-2020 basketball season. The witness told Deadspin that they never heard Simon talk about a white player in such a derogatory manner.

Further, the Complaint alleges, and the witness confirmed to Deadspin, that Simon spoke negatively about Black colleagues, including men’s head basketball coach Jean Bain, and used racist tropes, “such as ‘loud,’ ‘obnoxious,’ and ‘angry’” when describing a Black female coach at another school.

Simon has been the head women’s basketball coach at Brandeis since the 1987-88 season. According to Brandeis’ website, Simon is “one of the most respected Division III coaches in New England. She has earned University Athletic Association Coaching Staff of the Year honors in 1991-92 and 2004-05 and in 2010 was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.”

Those aren’t the only allegations against Simon in the Complaint, which also claims that Simon has belittled, and mocked Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives put in place by the Athletic Department, complaining about her role in DEI education by asking “When do I get to just coach? This is not what I signed up to do.” The witness also claims that Simon was cavalier about her immunity from disciplinary action, saying “They’ll never get rid of me, I have too many pictures. That’s why I keep my upper right drawer locked.”

Despite Brandeis’ reputation as a bastion of liberal tolerance, the witness told Deadspin that 75 percent of the Black players on the team quit within one year. “Being Black at Brandeis is hard enough,” the witness said. “Being a Black woman athlete is really tough.” The Complaint also alleges that Simon complained that Black players involved in activities like the Black Student Association, Black Lives Matter, and other social justice initiatives were “too involved in other things,” but did not say the same about white players’ non-basketball activities. The witness reported to Deadspin that Simon had much better relationships with white players.

Racism as an ongoing issue in Brandeis Athletics

The witness said they were shocked that Simon’s behavior was allowed to continue at the University after the firing of men’s head basketball coach Brian Meehan in 2018. Since that time, the University has created an Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and hired Lauren Haynie as Director of Athletics. But the witness said the OEO has no decision-making or disciplinary power, and that Haynie has been handicapped by the university in not being allowed to bring in her own staff.

But the problems in Brandeis’ Athletics department run deeper still. Lynn Dempsey, who was demoted from Director of Athletics following the Meehan scandal, remains with the Department in the role of Associate Director of Athletics, and Haynie’s right-hand woman. Dempsey played basketball at Brandeis for Simon in the 1990s and still calls Simon “coach,” though Dempsey is technically her superior within the Athletics Department. Any student who wanted to complain about Simon’s behavior would likely have had to go through Dempsey, first.

Deadspin reported in 2018 that Dempsey’s demotion from AD came as a result of her inaction after six players took complaints of racism, nepotism, and player mistreatment about Meehan, spanning three seasons, to the University. Deadspin also reported “Dempsey and Meehan declined to meet with a player in 2015 to discuss what he felt was unfair and discriminatory treatment. Dempsey was also present for (a) 2017 Senior Day incident in which Meehan cussed a senior player out in front of his parents for asking to take free throws that Meehan instead had his son take.” On another occasion, Meehan allegedly told a Black player, “I’ll ship you back to Africa,” and claimed he didn’t want to sit next to a Black athlete for fear of catching Ebola. Despite being demoted, ostensibly for allowing Meehan’s behavior to go unchecked, Dempsey remains part of Brandeis Athletics.

The witness told Deadspin that, once the investigation into Simon’s behavior began, she refused to meet with any students to discuss the upcoming season, and told players not to speak to the person who made the complaint, prompting some players to complain about “toxicity” in the program. According to the witness, Simon had to be ordered to hold pre-season meetings with her players by the Athletic Department. And in the fall of 2022, Simon “reorganized the division of work amongst the women’s basketball coaching staff so that recruiting responsibilities were reassigned” from the witness to an assistant women’s coach.

Despite the numerous allegations against Simon in the Complaint, the school only found that she violated University policy with regard to the June 22 incident, stating in the letter “The Decision Makers found insufficient evidence to prove all other allegations by a preponderance of the evidence.” Deadspin has reached out to Simon, Dempsey, Haynie, and the University for comment. Brandeis provided the following statement:

“It is university policy not to comment on specific personnel issues. Brandeis takes all complaints of discrimination extremely seriously. In recent years, the university has taken a number of steps designed to enhance our ability to address issues of discrimination. This includes establishing the Office of Equal Opportunity in 2019, implementing new training sessions for students, faculty and staff, and increasing reporting, and resolution options. For formal complaints, there is a thorough process overseen by the Office of Equal Opportunity that includes a professional investigation, a determination by a panel, and sanctions when appropriate.”

At the time of publication, none of the individuals involved responded to our request for comment.

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