Galena football coach Steve Struzyk being sued by former players, statement from player’s attorney Terri Keyser-Cooper
On January 4, 2017, Plaintiffs Mateo Lemus, Bryan Madison, and Jake Berger, all former varsity football captains at Galena High School, sued Head Coach Steve Struzyk, Principal Tom Brown, and the Washoe County School District in federal court.
In this First Amendment retaliation case, Plaintiffs Lemus, Madison, and Berger allege they were retaliated against by their football coach, Steve Struzyk, because they respectfully and appropriately opposed his bullying, taunting, derogatory and demeaning treatment. They spoke up against Struzyk’s unlawful bullying and were punished for their speech.
Public policy in Nevada, Washoe County, and Galena High School prohibits bullying. Laws and school policies prohibit bullying. Students who experience bullying are encouraged to report it. The lawsuit alleges Lemus, Madison, and Berger did precisely that, they opposed Coach Struzyk’s bullying and stood up for public policy. As a result, Struzyk kicked them off the football team and they saw their college football prospects evaporate. Struzyk also removed them from Galena’s HUDL account, making it impossible for college recruiters to see their stats and game highlights.
The lawsuit alleges that a dispute arose over a nutritional supplement that several team members, including Lemus, Madison, and Berger, were briefly taking. The supplement was determined by the NIAA to be allowable but Coach Struzyk became enraged and removed all three players from their Captain’s roles. Struzyk then called the Plaintiffs into his office individually, berating Lemus, calling him a “cancer” on the team, and yelling, taunting, and sneering at him. Lemus stood up to Struzyk, albeit respectfully, insisting he was not a cancer and verbally opposing his bullying.
Struzyk told Lemus, “You better learn to bend over if I tell you to. I determine who gets the ball, I determine who plays, and I determine who gets stats for college.” Struzyk warned Lemus if he protested anything, he would withhold all assistance to Lemus’ college prospects.
The next day, Plaintiffs Madison and Berger, upset that Lemus had been terminated from the team, went in to speak privately with Struzyk. The young men wanted the Coach to apologize for his bullying conduct and to consider returning Lemus to the team. Struzyk became enraged. Struyzk yelled at Madison and Berger to get out of his office and to “Turn their shit in.” Madison and Berger understood that to mean they too, like Lemus, were off the football team.
When the parents of the three went in to talk with Principal Brown, they explained Struzyk’s conduct. Brown defended Struzyk’s actions, including calling the boys “cancers” as permissible “football talk.” Brown also stated that anti-bullying policies did not apply to football coaches. Brown said there were two sets of rules—one for the classroom and another for the football field. Brown indicated nothing could (or would be) done to halt Struzyk’s conduct.
The school district investigated and found the bullying charges “inconclusive.”
The lawsuit alleges that Lemus, Madison, and Berger were right to speak out against bullying, and Struzyk, in removing them from the football team, retaliated against them in violation of the First Amendment.
Lemus said, “Football meant everything to me. My opportunity to go on and play college football is significantly impacted. I’ve been told that without a senior year and my stats that it is almost impossible for me to get the scholarship opportunities I would have had.”
Madison said, “Football is all I’ve known and having a senior year taken away as well as a college career seriously impacted is devastating for me.”
Berger said, “I don’t want any athletes or families, in the future, to have to go through what I went through.”
All three allege college recruiters were interested in them and are no no longer looking at them.
Terri Keyser-Cooper, their lawyer, said, “The outrageous conduct of Coach Struzyk towards these young men was unlawful, wrongful, and showed an unusual personal animosity. That he continues to sneer at them and call them ‘cancers’ and “poisons’ and talk about how ‘glad he is that they are off the team is shameful,” said Terri Keyser-Cooper their lawyer. “Anti-bullying polices absolutely apply to coaches, who should be role models for fair play and sportsmanship.”