By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 9/22/23
Kim Russell, a Tatnall School (DE) alum from Newark, is defending her actions after being removed as head women’s lacrosse coach at Division III Oberlin College last week for what school officials called her “breach of trust” due to her stance and actions against the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.
Russell, who said she was “burned at the stake” after posting her personal views on social media in March of 2022, has been reassigned to a desk job that forbids her from having contact with any Oberlin students.
Russell made headlines in recent weeks following a documentary (seen here) by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a national conservative organization, and appearances on FOX cable that detailed her views on transgenders in women’s sports. She was informed last Wednesday morning by Oberlin officials that she was being moved to the role of Employee Wellness Project Manager where she will create programs for staff members only. She had been head lacrosse coach for 5 years.
Oberlin Director of Media Relations Andrea Simakis provided this statement on the decision to reassign Russell:
“Russell posted about trans athletes on social media 18 months ago, in March 2022. She coached an entire season after that. But when she recorded her student-athletes without their knowledge or consent and then shared those recordings with the media, she violated their trust in an irreparable way. This breach of trust – not her posts, feelings, or beliefs about trans athletes – is why she has been removed from her coaching duties.
“Russell is our new Employee Wellness Project Manager, which fits well with her skills, experience, and interests.”
The IWF documentary included audio clips of lacrosse players and university officials, which were recorded by Russell during what she called highly volatile meetings and was labeled by Oberlin administrators as “part of a hate group” following her social media post.
The controversy began 18 months ago when Russell, 56, reshared on her Instagram story another user’s post and added a comment that questioned transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’s win at the 2022 NCAA championships by congratulating the woman, Emma Weyant, who finished in second. Thomas is a transgender woman who made national headlines by competing on Penn’s women’s team after competing previously on the men’s team before her transition.
A student-athlete on Russell’s team saw Russell’s post and reported it to the athletic director. Russell said she was subjected to multiple “disciplinary meetings,” which she admitted to recording. She recorded an administrator telling her she fell into a category of people “filled with hate” and that there were people on campus calling her “transgressive and transphobic and unsafe.”
Following the meetings, Russell was asked to write an apology letter to the athletics department and her team, but she ultimately declined.
Russell said she worked hard to repair relations with her team the past two seasons but felt the need to speak out publicly this summer despite knowing it would impact her position as coach.
“For me, it was a difficult year to be at Oberlin,” said Russell, who also taught a class on techniques of relaxation to undergraduates. “I remain a very spiritual person every day … and I ask what is for the greatest good? I repaired relations with the team.
“I am passionate about women in sports. I saw more and more biological men winning and competing in women’s sports. I’m in a place where I can do this now and speak up and I really believe it was part of my purpose.”
In the documentary, Russell said: “I really believe that women should be competing against other biological females.”
Russell described her treatment by Oberlin officials and the reaction on campus following the posting as being excessively unfair because she was unable to have a dialogue that included her thoughts and beliefs. She said that when the team met with her back in March of 2022 she was denigrated by her own student-athletes and silenced by her administrators. Russell said she had to repeat many negative statements back to her student-athletes word-for-word and was unable to refute any of the accusations.
This meeting lasted one hour and 42 minutes.
“I was screamed at, all while the AD, Natalie Winklefoos, looked on silently,” Russell recalled. “When a member of the team tried to stand up for me and read four pages of comments regarding all of the good things about me as a coach and person, I was shut down by Rebecca Mosley, Title IX & DEI Coordinator for Oberlin College and, I wasn’t allowed to repeat back any of the positive things the student-athlete said.
“Because of the way Oberlin handled it then, I couldn’t even have conversations with my team about it. I am a coach and entitled, like anyone, to my opinion. Perhaps if Oberlin would encourage dialogue, respect others’ opinions, and listen to understand, I’d still be coaching there. After the documentary and story broke on August 29th (of this year), I was told I was not allowed to contact my team.”
After the 2022 season ended, Russell received a letter stating she had to “change my behavior immediately.’ she said.
“I was advised by my attorney to give them a letter asking what policies I had broken and that if you were going to fire me for breaking policies, do it now,” she said.
Russell said she recorded the second meeting with Oberlin administrators and her lacrosse student-athletes because in previous meetings with administrators, she said she was berated and was not allowed to defend herself.
She admits now of remorse that the voices of student-athlete statements from the documentary can be identified, but felt she was forced into a difficult position by having her voice squashed.
“I didn’t record the first meeting with the student-athletes but I knew this time they’d all be given a chance to say anything they wanted in front of multiple administrators, that’s why I recorded it,” she said.
Russell was empathetic to the feelings of her former players.
“I was very adamant that girls’ names (would) not be used in the documentary,” she said. “Do I wish their voices weren’t heard? Yes. If I had to do it over again, would I still have the quotes there? Yes. I was trying to show what happened.
“Do I understand why my team feels I betrayed them? Yes, I understand that. Of course, I can understand why they feel that way. Do I believe the entire team feels that way? No. Did I mean to hurt any of them by taking this to the media? No. Am I doing it for the greater good and a bigger purpose? Yes.”
Russell described her desire to speak out as a college coach, acknowledging that few coaches have publicly made similar statements because of fear of backlash. The most vocal proponent of keeping transgender women out of women’s sports has been All-American swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed against Thomas and has been outspoken on the subject on FOX.
“This is a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere,” said Russell of the reluctance of coaches to speak out. “It’s a combination of students having control over coaches’ destinies in such a way that it is very difficult for people to coach authentically anymore and to be themselves without worrying about saying the wrong thing – or being canceled or being fired.
“It is really sad. We are losing coaches and umpires, we are not allowed to have conversations anymore. I’ve always had deep conversations with kids I’ve coached about everything – it’s about building relationships. I’m used to (thinking) that it is OK to disagree. Now you can get thrown out with the trash immediately. It’s as if anything good I’ve done in the past and who I am as a person is forgotten. This is happening to good people everywhere.”
Russell is currently taking personal time off to decide whether she will accept her reassignment or pursue other options.
“I’m taking time to be with my family and discuss what is best and what is for the greatest good,” she said.