B.C., Former Coach Resolve Lawsuit

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Dennis Yesalonia, SJ, general counsel for the University, announced May 15 that legal action against Boston College by former Men's Basketball Head Coach Jim O'Brien had been resolved.

In the announcement, O'Brien denied trying to paint Boston College and Director of Undergraduate Admission John Mahoney Jr. as racist.

Earlier last week, O'Brien's suit - in which he alleged breach of contract and slander, and claimed that decisions to deny admittance to two African-American athletes may have been racially tainted - became public and elicited a strong reaction from University President William P. Leahy, SJ. Fr. Leahy called a press conference on May 13 in which he categorically rejected the racism charge and defended Mahoney and admission policies.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, addresses reporters at last week's press conference as Athletic Director Gene DiFilippo looks on. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Fr. Yesalonia said the resolution came about after extensive discussions during the week with O'Brien's representatives. He emphasized that the discussions did not involve any negotiations relative to the financial claims asserted in O'Brien's lawsuit. At O'Brien's suggestion, the disposition of the financial matters was resolved on the basis of what Boston College believed to be fair to both parties, Fr. Yesalonia said.

Upon learning about the resolution of the complaint, O'Brien - who left BC in April 1997 to become the head basketball coach at Ohio State University - stated that the suit was never about race and was not intended to question the character or integrity of John Mahoney or to suggest that Boston College was a racist institution.

"The merits of this suit were about a breach of contract and slander," O'Brien said. "The facts set forth in the complaint were alleged in an effort to support those claims. I know that Boston College and John Mahoney are not racist, nor does the complaint allege that."

Fr. Leahy acknowledged that O'Brien is a man of passion and loyalty, qualities that he exhibited while at Boston College, where he devoted himself for 11 years to advancing its men's basketball program.

"The circumstances of his departure were unfortunate and regrettable," said Fr. Leahy. "Jim O'Brien loyally performed his duties while head coach of the men's basketball team and he was not dismissed from his position."

At the press conference earlier in the week, Fr. Leahy said the University was willing to discuss O'Brien's breach-of-contract grievances, but would not negotiate on the racism charge.

"I am shocked, saddened and angered by this accusation, and I cannot and will not allow such a reckless and irresponsible claim to go unanswered," Fr. Leahy said at the event.

"Charges of racism are difficult to respond to, as we all know," Fr. Leahy added. "But I am here this afternoon to tell you Boston College is not a racist institution and it has long been committed to treating people with respect and sensitivity. Nor does it tolerate acts of bias and discrimination by its students, faculty, administrators and staff or anyone associated with Boston College."

Fr. Leahy said that in the past five years the University had made "great progress" in its commitment to foster greater diversity among its student body, pointing out that AHANA and international students now make up approximately 20 percent of the undergraduate population, and that the number of African-American students, in particular, has grown.

Fr. Leahy praised the efforts of Undergraduate Admission in helping the University achieve this diversity, especially Mahoney.

"Anyone who knows John Mahoney ... knows he is a man who has labored long and hard to recruit not only African-Americans, but all minorities," he said. "Not only does he work with students, he also mentors staff."

Fr. Leahy said that after reviewing the cases of the two recruits - Elton Tyler and Jonathan DePina - he felt the Undergraduate Admission Office had been correct in its decision to deny their applications. However, he added, the students and their families had been "led to believe by the coaching staff that they were going to be accepted by Boston College," and this convinced him there was "a moral imperative" for the University to offer admission. Tyler and DePina elected to enroll in other institutions.

Fr. Leahy noted that the University's admission process, for athletes and non-athletes alike, entails "not just grade point averages or SAT scores" but considers factors including the student's family support system and ability to communicate.

"The bottom line is," Fr. Leahy said, "do the people in our Admission Office think the person can graduate from Boston College and have a profitable undergraduate career?"

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