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OU volleyball: Former Sooner setter Kylee McLaughlin suing program over exclusion; says team branded her conservative views racist

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Kylee Mclaughlin

Then-junior setter Kylee Mclaughlin sets the ball during the game against ASU Sept. 13, 2019.

Former Sooner setter Kylee McLaughlin is suing OU volleyball head coach Lindsey Gray-Walton, assistant coach Kyle Walton and the university for a minimum of $75,000, claiming she had been excluded from the team last year over her politically conservative views.

McLaughlin, a team captain and first team All-Big 12 player for the Sooners in 2018 and 2019, said she was discriminated against after expressing beliefs that “didn’t fit the culture” at OU. According to McLaughlin’s lawsuit, which was first reported by The Oklahoman, Gray-Walton required her team last June to watch the Netflix documentary “13th,” which details the mass incarceration of African Americans, and held a team discussion after the viewing.

There, McLaughlin said while “she agreed 100% that slavery was wrong,” she found the film to be “slanted left” and to speak ill of then-U.S. President Donald Trump. Her lawsuit also states McLaughlin went on to say that “Black incarceration was higher than other racial groups while representing a smaller overall percentage of the population,” which was mentioned in the documentary. 

After her comments were made, which the lawsuit states at least one of her teammates found racist, McLaughlin was instructed to later attend another team discussion on the matter, which she attended.

On June 12, 2020, after ESPN tweeted about University of Texas student-athlete's desire to abandon the school's “Eyes of Texas” fight song due its racial undertones, McLaughlin quote tweeted the post with a skull and crossbones emoji paired with another emoji of a laughing clown. In her lawsuit, McLaughlin said she believes “the ‘Eyes of Texas’ is not a racist song” and that “it would be inappropriate to get rid of it at the University of Texas because it is a strong tradition.”

Volleyball players from both OU and Texas spoke against McLaughlin’s comment. Later that night, McLaughlin’s lawsuit states Gray-Walton texted McLaughlin urging her to delete her tweet and set up a phone call between the two for the next morning. In that call, which was over an hour long, Gray-Walton told McLaughlin that “I can’t save you when you get into the real world when you leave here,” according to the lawsuit.

McLaughlin would go on to delete the tweet and apologize to UT's head coach and players for her tweet via phone call.

The lawsuit states after the two aforementioned incidents, McLaughlin was branded as a racist and homophobe by her teammates and coaches. Eventually, after various meetings between Gray-Walton, McLaughlin and others, McLaughlin was given the choice of either transferring, keeping her scholarship but as just a student at OU, or redshirting for the season and practicing separately without her teammates throughout the year.

McLaughlin chose the redshirt option, but states in her lawsuit that her separate practices were never held. During the course of her redshirt season, McLaughlin said she took more than 10 hours of diversity and inclusion training. This led her to transfer from OU to Ole Miss earlier this year.

McLaughlin’s states in the lawsuit that she finds racism wrong, but she disagrees with “the WOKE culture and critical race theory advocated (for) and practiced by two of her coaches.” McLaughlin claims that during the incidents, she became emotionally upset and couldn’t eat or sleep for three days. She also believes the program has ruined her chance at pro career in volleyball, and the lawsuit is to make up for future economic loss.

The Sooners ended their 2020-21 season with a 4-14 record and went 3-11 in Big 12 play.

Editor's note: This story was corrected at 12:45 p.m. on June 4 to clarify the content of ESPN's tweet about the University of Texas' fight song.

Chandler Engelbrecht is a journalism senior and the Daily's assistant sports editor. He currently covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, volleyball and men's gymnastics.

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