Minnesota Litigator would not be breaking new ground by pointing out that there is a militaristic ethos in sports — some more than others — but, in all of them and, in particular, large team sports, there is a strong resemblance to a military environment. Teams have “captains,” of course, but everyone knows that the general is the coach and that coaches are given wide latitude to impose their will over “their men” (or their women, of course). In fact, they seem to command blind obedience and sometimes they seem to assert their authority with draconian severity reminiscent of drill sergeants.
What recourse does a college athlete have when a coach is an overly rigid, unforgiving, and even an arbitrary decision-maker who throws the athlete off the team for inscrutable reasons?
It would appear that Middlebury College’s hockey coach, Coach Beaney, just wasn’t particularly fond of James “Jak” Knelman, a Minnesota resident, a hockey player, and Middlebury student. Beaney threw Knelman off the Middlebury hockey team, where he was a valued and high-achieving player, for slipping out of an alumni banquet early because his parents were visiting Middlebury and possibly also because Knelman generally irritated Coach Beaney? (See Complaint ¶¶ 37-51).
For the most part, Middlebury prevailed on a motion for summary judgment against Knelman’s claims. In fact, Knelman’s case was so gutted by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss’ order (District of Vermont) that plaintiff Knelman ultimately decided to dismiss the claims that survived the motion for summary judgment and take an appeal on the claims that he lost on summary judgment.
The case is now pending appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Knelman is represented by a team of lawyers from the Minneapolis law firm of Anthony Ostlund & Baer, led by Joe Anthony and Mary Knoblauch. As appellants, Knelman’s odds are not favorable. Can it really be that a young man’s academic/athletic experience can be subject to the whim and caprice of a prickly coach?