In 2017, Jaime Hoffman, the openly gay athletic director at Eagle Rock’s Occidental College, became the focus of the football team’s wrath after the administration decided to cancel the season in order to protect the players from themselves following a disastrous opening game. Within a year, she was hospitalized with a self-described “mental break” after a war with the players in which she was called slurs both behind her back and to her face. She was subsequently fired without severance.
Now she’s filed suit, warning, “If it could happen at Occidental, it could happen anywhere.”
As the Daily Beast reports, administrators and Hoffman all agreed that it was too risky for the Tigers to play after the team lost its first game by 55 points against a team that would go on to become the lowest-ranked in the conference. Three players had to leave the game after being injured during a single play. What’s more, while a healthy team at a small school should have 75 eligible players, only 36 showed up for practice before Occidental’s next scheduled game, against an opposing team with 117.
“When it comes to a sport like football where someone can be paralyzed or someone can die, I have to be the parent in this situation,” Hoffman—one of just roughly 300 female athletic directors in the country, just about a quarter of the AD’s in the NCAA—said. “I have to make a responsible decision.”
Although the decision to call off the game was made by consensus between the college’s general counsel, head athletic trainer, head football coach, its president, and Hoffman, she says, it was left to her to inform the team. Hoffman claims she was only allowed to read a brief statement and to avoid any mention of safety concerns because of the school’s fear of liability issues.
“I was playing with one hand tied behind my back,” she says.
After being shouted down with cries of “bullshit,” and—one former player recalls—“dyke bitch!” Hoffman returned home, where she says an SUV drove by and someone inside screamed, “Cunt!”
After another tense meeting with team, during which Hoffman reprimanded the players’ conduct, team parents sent the board of trustees a letter demanding Hoffman have no further oversight of the football team and accusing her of doing “irreparable harm” to their sons. The Tigers themselves then filed a complaint with the school’s Title IX office, saying the administration had an “ardent anti-male bias,” and that Hoffman had lied about their behavior, which led them to be “ostracized” on campus.
Hoffman then started finding broken eggs and beer bottles on her lawn and nails in her driveway. The college, however, says an independent review of Hoffman’s concerns found the players’ conduct did not constitute gender or sexual orientation harassment.
After being hospitalized for a “mental break” in October 2017, and being granted several months of workers compensation, when Hoffman tried to return to her job the following summer, she was informed that she was being put on “active unpaid status” and that she had 60 days to vacate her campus housing.
Occidental claims it took the actions because it could not accommodate Hoffman’s request that an assistant AD be assigned to the Tigers, though several other school teams already report to assistant athletic directors.
Hoffman filed suit against Occidental in September 2018 for gender discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and failure to accommodate disability. She wants to be returned to her position and is seeking compensation for emotional distress.
Hoffman also emphasizes that there is an issue at stake bigger than just her own career, one that affects women at NCAA programs all over the country. “This is a trend in athletics in higher ed,” she says. “It’s easier to get rid of the women.”