Beverly Kearney is a Hall of Fame track and field coach whose near-miraculous story of recovering from a horrible car accident made her a nationally known hero. Now, she’s stepping down from her job in disgrace, after admitting to a sexual relationship with a student athlete. Her story suggests that it’s not just powerful men who get professionally tripped up by relationships with underlings.
Kearney, 55, has been coaching at the University of Texas since 1993, and in that time she led the women’s track and field team to six national championships. In December 2002, she was involved in a devastating car accident that killed two of her friends and left her partially paralyzed. Kearney refused to stop coaching; she watched videos of track practices from her hospital bed. Her team kept winning as she worked on her recovery, and she was inducted into the Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007. CNN profiled her glowingly last year.
According to her own admission, however, Kearney entered into a “consensual intimate relationship” with an “adult student-athlete” in July 2002. The relationship ended on December 26 of that year, when Kearney had her accident. It had remained a secret in the intervening years, but in October of last year the former student reported it to university officials. They placed Kearney on administrative leave, but didn’t give a reason publicly for doing so. In resigning, Kearney got to tell the story herself.
“You destroy yourself,” she said in an interview about her resignation with the Austin American-Statesman. You start questioning how could you make such a judgment. How could you make such an error after all the years? You can get consumed [by it]. But I had to go back and say, ‘God, if this is the pattern that you choose for me to find peace of mind, if this is what I need to go through to in order to do that, let me not make it about anybody else, but revert it back to me.’ It’s been a difficult challenge for me simply because I have to forgive myself for making an error. I didn’t commit a crime, but I displayed poor judgment.”
Her lawyer, however, places much of the blame for Kearney’s resignation on the school itself. “We believe that Ms. Kearney has been subjected to a double standard and has received far harsher punishment than that being given to her male counter-parts who have engaged in similar conduct,” he told the paper. “It is a shame that this remarkably talented female African-American coach, who has devoted her life to helping others, is being bullied and scapegoated by the University of Texas.” If Kearney is indeed being treated differently than male coaches, I hope that comes to light. In the meantime, it’s yet another reminder of how easy it is to throw away a distinguished career over an ill-advised personal relationship. In fact, right before Kearney’s suspension, her bosses had just nominated her for a raise.
Photo: Tom and Lorenzo