- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Six place-kickers testified that Heather Sue Mercer lacked the requisite skills to make the Duke football team in 1995.

An assistant coach testified that Mercer's celebrated tryout lasted only as long as it did because of the head coach sympathetic to her plight.

Fred Goldsmith, Duke's head coach at the time, testified that he could relate to Mercer's struggle because of a daughter who had once played in a boys' youth league. As a result, Goldsmith told the court, he gave the woman more opportunities to make the team than he would have given a man.

Eight jurors, after hearing the testimony and reviewing old videotape, awarded Mercer $2 million in punitive damages last week, ruling that she was cut from the team because of her womanhood.

It seems Goldsmith and his assistants evaluated Mercer by her anatomy and not her kicking ability. Their obsession with Mercer's anatomy impaired their judgment and fostered a climate of indifference, and Mercer suffered accordingly.

After the verdict, one juror said, "Nothing made an impression on me that she was good enough to play, but that doesn't change how she was treated. They put her on the team and treated her differently."

But she was different. She was the only female in an all-male environment, and it was this differentness that prompted the national interest in her saga, leading to countless touchy-feely announcements in the media.

Otherwise, she was just another dreamer who lacked the leg strength to compete at the highest level of Division I football.

After learning the gig was up, like a lot of dreamers, she demonstrated a remarkable lack of perspective.

Here's what she said after being cut from the team in August 1995: "I believe that if I were a man and had the same kicking skills that I have now, I would be a member of the Duke football team."

So if she couldn't play football, she could play the victim of sex discrimination.

Five years later, a lot of people, including school officials, have gone to a lot of trouble to keep the real story out of the public domain. This smacks of a conspiracy, and Hollywood probably is already sniffing around, looking for another inspiring football tale that comes with the convenient based-on-a-true-story license. To Hollywood, the license is an invitation to bend and adjust the facts to fit the politically correct tenets of the day.

As for the six place-kickers who testified against Mercer, they either perjured themselves or don't know the difference between a 25-yard field goal and a 45-yard field goal.

Mercer's defenders note that she was a competent place-kicker in high school, a third-team, all-state selection as a senior in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

To which can be said: That's nice.

The number of star athletes from high school relegated to intramurals in college is staggering. The weeding-out process, from high school to college, is unsparing, and hardly a science.

Sometimes mistakes are made. This is not to suggest that Mercer was the victim of a personnel mistake.

But let's argue she was as capable as the last kicker buried on the end of Duke's bench in 1995, a kicker with no chance ever of competing in a game. If that is the contention, it is not much of one, and certainly not one worth $2 million, given the travails of so many male athletes who trek hither and yon in pursuit of their sports dreams.

Goldsmith couldn't win in a court in Greensboro, N.C., and he couldn't win on the field at Duke. He was fired after the 1998 season, his fate determined by a 17-39 record.

Mercer was a glorified nonfactor, if not a disruption to team dynamics and a distraction to the cause. If Goldsmith could do it all over again, he probably would keep Mercer around, if only because an ongoing media circus is preferable to a legal battle and being right can be wrong.

At least one woman who believes her gender got in the way of her dream is feeling empowered this week.

You've come a long way, baby.

Strike the baby part.

That could be litigious material.

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