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Fresno State Lacrosse Players Detail Inequities in Suit

Paul Steinbach

When five members of the Fresno State women’s lacrosse team filed a lawsuit against the university late last week, they provided written testimonies as exhibits detailing what they felt were violations of Title IX and inequity within the athletic department.

As reported Wednesday by The Collegian student newspaper, the statements allege disparities in publicity, equipment, COVID-19 protocols and facilities. The five players — Megan Walaitis, Abbigayle Roberts, Taylor Anders, Hennessey Evans and Tara Weir — say they’re seeking equal opportunities in more than just participation.

Walaitis, a fourth-year senior and captain, said the university has undermined the program since the Oct. 16 announcement that the program would be eliminated following the 2021 season.

Beyond the program’s cancellation, the lawsuit centers on two instances that Walaitis and the other players highlight as significant examples of mistreatment by the athletic department.

Walaitis said in her statement that in instances of COVID-19 quarantines due to possible exposures within the programs, other varsity teams were provided with housing and three meals a day delivered to them during a quarantine.

According to Walaitis, that was not afforded to the women’s lacrosse team. She said that when members of the lacrosse team had to quarantine, they were not provided housing and paid for their own food. “We were not provided any meals but were given snacks with past-due expiration dates and were told to order in food at our own cost,” Walaitis said.

Walaitis also describes being excluded from the athletic facilities and their locker room following the program’s cancellation announcement. 

According to Walaitis, the athletic department provided the football team with access to their locker rooms while the lacrosse players were locked out. When the football players were moved into the locker room, Walaitis said that personal items were discarded into a shower area, and players were unable to recover the items. “The athletics department put the personal belongings we kept in our locker room into the showers,” said Evans, a freshman and former high school All-American. “We are treated as though our contributions to the university do not matter.”

This was also reflected in financial support. 

In one instance, Walaitis recalls when the team was forced to wake up at 2 a.m. and travel two-and-a-half hours away to fly out of the San Jose airport. Walaitis said this resulted in the team having 17-hour travel days.

Walaitis said that the players were only given $7 to spend on food on this day, which wasn’t even enough to cover most meals at an airport, and Anders said the difference in per diem payments between the women's and men's programs was so substantial that some men’s team members would have leftover money to keep for themselves.

For the 2017, 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, the lacrosse program’s spending rose in athlete supplemental meals from $994.33 to $4,161.70 then dipped to $914.16 respectively, and spending in home game meals rose from $2,481.14 to $5,518.58 then greatly dipped to $309.22, according to The Collegian.

Moreover, multiple players feel that because the athletic department failed to prioritize the program and provide it with adequate coaching, the team's on-field performance suffered.

“In the time that I have played for Fresno State, our team has never been provided the resources necessary to be successful,” Roberts, a senior captain, said in her statement. “Our record does not reflect the talent on our team, but rather the athletic department’s failure to provide qualified coaching and basic amenities required by any team.”

On Jan. 8, 2020, Jessica Giglio stepped down after seven years as head coach. Roberts said that Giglio's profound lack of strategic knowledge cost the team games. She said the team complained to athletics officials for years about the coaching.

The Collegian reached out to the defendants in the civil lawsuit — California State University chancellor Joseph I. Castro, athletic director Terry Tumey and Fresno State interim president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval. Tumey and Jiménez-Sandoval did not respond to a request for comment, and a CSU spokesperson said Castro stands by his decision to cut the team in his final months as the Fresno State president.

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