U.S. Women: Keller files for arbitration against USSF

The following is a Feb. 26 statement released by Dane H. Butswinkas of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly concerning Debbie Keller's demand for arbitration with respect to her exclusion from the U.S. women's national team resideny camp: "This afternoon, Williams & Connolly instituted legal action on Ms. Keller's behalf with the American Arbitration Association against the United States Soccer Federation. Ms. Keller seeks arbitration pursuant to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act for the Federation's failure to include Ms. Keller as one of the 26 regular members of the 1999 Women's National Team Residency Camp, the precursor to selection to the United States World Cup Team. As a result, Ms. Keller has already been denied participation in at least three protected amateur athletic competitions. The demand requests that Ms. Keller be named as a regular member to compete in the Residency Camp and in National Team matches. "We believe that the failure to include Ms. Keller on the 26-player roster for the Residency Camp was unlawful, discriminatory, and retaliatory. On August 25, 1998, Ms. Keller filed a sexual harassment suit against her former coach at the University of North Carolina, Anson Dorrance. Mr. Dorrance casts a broad shadow over women's soccer and the Federation. He is the former coach of the United States National Team; he has ten current and former players in the Residency Camp; he has former players coaching the present National Team; and he had a major role in seeing that Mr. Tony DiCicco was offered the head coaching position when Mr. Dorrance stepped down. The close connection between Mr. Dorrance and Mr. DiCicco is well known in the women's soccer community. "That Ms. Keller was excluded from the Residency Camp because of her lawsuit (and not because of her skills) is virtually indisputable. Prior to filing her lawsuit, Ms. Keller was widely recognized as one of the top players in the United States. She received college Player of the Year awards in both 1995 and 1996. She was the USISL W-League MVP in 1997. In 1998 she was the National Team's second leading scorer behind Mia Hamm; she started six out of eight National Team games prior to the lawsuit; and she had more National Team goals per minute played than any player in the Residency Camp. Indeed, by any legitimate measure, Ms. Keller earned a position in the Residency Camp. Prior to the lawsuit, Coach DiCicco touted her as a rising star on the National Team. Nevertheless, three months after filing her lawsuit, she was excluded from the 26-player Residency Camp and has not been named to any of the 18-player rosters for international competition in 1999, which as a practical matter eliminates her opportunity to represent the United States in the World Cup. "The Federation has refused to give any explanation for Ms. Keller's dismissal from the National Team and its programs. Moreover, about three days after learning that Ms. Keller would initiate legal action, the Federation invited Ms. Keller to the Residency Camp to practice with the regular National Team members for one week. In our view, the invitation is little more than a thinly-veiled litigation tactic designed to camouflage the retaliation against Ms. Keller and to upset her demand for arbitration. Nevertheless, Ms. Keller accepted the invitation and will participate fully. She wants nothing more than to represent the United States in the World Cup -- an opportunity she has fully earned through her performance on the field for the United States National Team. The arbitration, however, will go forward. "The message sent thus far is unmistakable and unforgivable. Women athletes victimized by sexual harrassment should keep those secrets to themselves. And if you do come forward, the consequences will be severe. In the case of Debbie Keller, it has all but ruined her soccer career. That is a powerful message indeed. That the Federation would permit itself to be the medium for such a message is inexcusable. Nor can we understand how permitting such a result advances the goals of women's soccer. With Ms. Keller's demand for arbitration, we hope to salvage her career and take at least a small step towards eviscerating that message."
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