High school coach faces federal civil rights complaint for alleged harassment, racist, and sexist comments

Posted at 4:21 PM, Sep 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-18 22:16:59-04

MATTAWAN, Mich. – Mattawan High School football coach and teacher Matt Stephens faces a federal civil rights complaint for alleged inappropriate comments, harassment, discrimination, and bullying.

Stephens has been Mattawan High School’s head football coach since 2009. On Sept. 8, Nancy Mullett, a lawyer with a local law firm, filed a federal civil rights complaint against the coach for inappropriate comments, sexual harassment and bullying. The firm represents Lawrence Curtis, father of the Wildcats’ starting quarterback.

The law firm’s memo issued to Mattawan Consolidated Schools clearly lays out the kind of verbiage Stephens has used as a social studies teacher and coach. A page of listed phrases like “you aren’t black enough,” "gang banger," and telling students the “IKEA store is like porn for girls.”

The firm conducted an independent review and gathered this information from students, parents, and staff.

In response, Mattawan Consolidated Schools Superintendent Patrick Bird issued a statement to FOX 17 that said he acknowledges the complaints and is “confident” that Coach Stephens will improve his actions:

“On behalf of the District, I acknowledge that some concerns have been brought forth to the District regarding comments that Coach Stephens is alleged to have made, both in the football program and in the school settings.  All concerns have been investigated and addressed by our administration.  Where deemed appropriate, remedial measures have been implemented.  However, we have not concluded that any of the substantiated comments were made with ill intent or that those situations cannot be corrected going forward.  Coach Stephens has shown a positive attitude towards improving in the areas of concern, and I believe he deserves that opportunity.  

“I am confident that the District has handled this situation in an appropriate and diligent manner.  The administration supports the on-going, positive efforts of Coach Stephens and the assistant coaches in the continuing development of the Mattawan Football program, as well as Coach Stephens' commitment to improving his game, both on the field and in the classroom."

Stephens would not comment other than a statement he issued to the Kalamazoo Gazette:

“At Mattawan I have had the privilege to coach and teach hundreds of student-athletes in football, wrestling and women's lacrosse. I approach each season devoted to positively impacting our these students, both as athletes and as people. My season goals have always included modeling and building strong integrity, class and excellence. I hope that those who have worked with me and those whom I have coached or taught understand that I have always cared about my players and students, and their development as young men and women.

“I acknowledge, however, that there have been some complaints about my performance in some of these areas. I also acknowledge that I have sometimes made comments that were not well thought out and that in retrospect I wish I hadn't said. I can honestly say that I have never said anything with an intent to hurt or demean any student or athlete, although I clearly understand now that sometimes my comments have had that effect. For that I am truly sorry, and have personally apologized to those of whom I am aware. I am working very hard to improve the examples I use and the comments I make when coaching and teaching, and hope to be a better coach, teacher and person as a result of this experience.

“The current football staff at Mattawan works hard to develop athletes' skills and character. I am committed to leading by example to meet our program's goals of good sportsmanship, respect towards teammates and opponents alike, and representing our school and community in a positive way. I am also committed to helping this team and each individual athlete on the team to reach his highest potential.  I intend to do my best not to let this current controversy negatively impact what I believe these athletes can accomplish as a team.”

FOX 17 also called the Office for Civil Rights with the United States Department of Education to determine whether the department plans to pursue an investigation. Stay with FOX 17 for updates.