Ray Carter | June 7, 2021
OU athletes required to watch anti-Trump film
A lawsuit filed by a former University of Oklahoma women’s volleyball player reveals that scholarship athletes were required to watch and discuss a political documentary that compares former President Donald Trump and his supporters with violent segregationists in the 1960s.
Because she expressed disagreement with that premise, Kylee McLaughlin’s lawsuit said she was subsequently ostracized and harassed, including by OU coaches, ultimately leading her to leave the university.
McLaughlin’s lawsuit against OU, OU women’s volleyball coach Lindsey Gray-Walton, and assistant coach Kyle Walton said the women’s volleyball program became focused almost exclusively on political issues during the spring 2020 COVID-19 shutdown.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the schedule for the O.U. women’s volleyball team changed dramatically in that the Defendants, for several months, emphasized discussions about white privilege and social justice rather than coaching volleyball,” the lawsuit states. “All members of the O.U. team were required to participate in discussions and watch a documentary called “13th” on racism and slavery.”
On June 11, 2020, the lawsuit says that Kyle Walton asked McLaughlin “to give her opinion on the video.” While saying that slavery was wrong, McLaughlin said she also “expressed her opinion toward the end of the video that it was slanted ‘left’ and that it took some shots at what President Trump said and compared it with beatings of Blacks from the 1960s.”
The lawsuit said McLaughlin was then asked to comment further and said she “offered comments directly from the movie” that showed disproportionately high rates of incarceration among African-Americans and noted those individuals were “incarcerated mostly for marijuana and drugs.”
According to the lawsuit, that event began a process in which McLaughlin was ostracized and accused of being racist. The other major incident occurred a few days after the discussion of the “13th” documentary when McLaughlin posted two emojis on social media, one of a skull-and-crossbones and the other of a laughing clown, in response to a story about the University of Texas potentially cancelling its “Eyes of Texas” fight song because of claims it was tied to racism.
(A subsequently released University of Texas report found that the song’s lyrics and meaning were not originally created with racist intent.)
By June 15, 2020, just four days after the mandatory team discussion of “13th,” McLaughlin’s lawsuit said coaches and teammates attacked her as “a racist and a homophobe” during a meeting, and that Coach Kyle Walton declared he was “not sure I can coach you anymore.”
By Oct. 6, 2020, the lawsuit said that McLaughlin received an email from the University of Oklahoma’s “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” office that required her to “be in an individual ‘Growth Plan’” that “involved a series of online training” about homosexuality and “unlearning” classism, ableism, trans and homosexual negativities, and sexism.
The lawsuit said McLaughlin was also “forced to take courses on diversity and identities, communication, intra-culture communications, active listening, and identity of privilege and race.” The lawsuit said those trainings consumed more than 10 hours and included pop quizzes.
“This plan was designed to condition Plaintiff to be WOKE,” the lawsuit states.
It also notes that no other member of the team was required to undergo an individual growth plan.
The website for “13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, describes the documentary as focusing on “the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.”
McLaughlin’s observation that the film “slanted ‘left’” and compared President Trump’s comments “with beatings of Blacks from the 1960s” has also been noted in official reviews of the film, including both positive and negative reviews.
Kyle Smith, writing for the New York Post, called the film “a morass of distortions, half-truths, calculated omissions, absurd hyperbole, and outright falsehoods.”
“Equating Donald Trump supporters with Deep South lynch mobs isn’t even its most outlandish tactic,” Smith wrote.
David Crow, in a positive review written for the Den of Geek website, noted, “Each time DuVernay includes a cut of Trump saying, for instance, ‘In the good old days, law enforcement acted a lot quicker than this,’ she would contrast shots of Black Lives Matter protestors being hit by Trump supporters to law enforcement officials opening fire hoses on Civil Rights protestors in the ‘60s.”
Armond White, writing for National Review, said the documentary “interprets the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery, as a political sham” and declared the documentary “could be the recruiting film Black Lives Matters has not managed to produce on its own.”
“The 13th is full of accusations by opportunists-posing-as-historians who profit from reinforcing the fear that black Americans by and large have not experienced progress,” White wrote.
David Edelstein, senior movie critic for New Yorker magazine, wrote that the film suggests the words “law and order” are “a code phrase for a form of slavery that exists right now, unrecognized.”
He also added, “You’d think from 13th that crime didn’t exist.” Edelstein self-described himself as “the stereotypical liberal who has been mugged—twice, once with a degree of force.”
Jordan Hoffman, writing in The Guardian, declared, “‘Prisons are the new plantations!’ may seem like sloganeering from a far-left protestor, but DuVernay’s effective film draws a strong, straight line from the abolition of slavery to today’s mass incarceration epidemic, explaining its root cause: money. Cheap prison labour is knotted up in the US economy in many unexpected ways, and the system is designed to get black men into jails early and often.”
In a June 5, 2020, statement issued on her Twitter account, OU women’s volleyball coach Lindsey Gray-Walton publicly touted “13th,” vowing to educate herself on “decades of presidential declarations towards ‘The War on (insert)’ to create confusion, fear and an imbalanced justice system. Creation of racial stigmas and economic inequalities in our communities that have continued to oppress people of color to this day (13th Netflix) are just a few examples.”
That statement also decried the “brutal acts of murder and harassment that continues to happen to our black community” and referred to “the list of people of color that have been viciously hunted down since 1619.”
Gray-Walton also told Oklahomans they should not cheer for OU teams unless they embrace political causes touted by various athletes, writing that “if you CANNOT support them in this fight for their lives, please do not superficially cheer for their successes for your own personal pleasures.”
Gray-Walton’s tweet also included a link to a “Black Lives Matter” site that includes advice for protesters, such as, “DO NOT share pictures or videos including protester’s faces or identifying features, the police WILL find and charge them.” The Black Lives Matter site linked by Gray-Walton also claimed, “Many white supremacist groups are creating fake protests and your life could be in danger. Many are police traps as well, RESEARCH.”
The site touted by Gray-Walton included information on “COP SPOTTING 101,” which declared, “Police have been documented infiltrating protest groups to incite violence within protests.” The site declares that this allows police “to use violent force against protestors” and “push public opinion in favor of the police.”
“You must protect yourself from them—they will remember your name and face and THEY WILL COME BACK FOR YOU IF THEY CAN,” the site states.
OU’s website shows that Gray-Walton and all members of the women’s volleyball coaching staff in 2020 were white, as were the majority of players listed on that year’s roster.
Prior to 2020, McLaughlin was an accomplished athlete and student who had the respect of teammates.
As a sophomore, McLaughlin was first team all-Big 12, co-setter of the year, selected as national player of the week, selected for the all-academic Big 12 team, and selected as OU student-athlete of the year. In her junior year, McLaughlin again earned all-Big 12 first team honors and was again selected for the Big 12’s all-academic team. McLaughlin was also selected as a captain of the women’s varsity volleyball team for the first two years she was in the program.
McLaughlin’s lawsuit notes that OU’s non-discrimination policy states discrimination is not allowed for any individual’s political beliefs or religion. The lawsuit states that “it was known to her teammates” that McLaughlin was “a practicing Christian and conservative in her political beliefs.”
“Employees of public institutions, like these Defendants, cannot investigate or discipline students for speech protected by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit states.
In the past year, officials at the University of Oklahoma have touted “diversity, equity, and inclusion” efforts and vowed to incorporate them into all parts of the college. This has included vowing to teach white students “cultural humility.”
Earlier this year, OU President Joseph Harroz declared his opposition to legislation that prohibited colleges from requiring students to take any orientation “that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex,” declaring the legislation to be “contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan.”
[For more articles about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.