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Radwan v. Manuel_ How Should a University React to Student-Athletes Vulgar Acts_.pdf (74.12 kB)

Radwan v. Manuel: How Should a University React to Student-Athletes Vulgar Acts?

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posted on 2024-05-17, 14:48 authored by Eben Beh

What is the proper discipline that a student-athlete should receive for showing their raised middle finger to a television camera during a nationally televised live sports game? Answering this question became necessary when University of Connecticut (UConn) women's soccer player Noriana Radwan did exactly that following the women's team's victory in a tournament championship in 2014. [1] The court case that followed examined student-athletes' First Amendment rights, Title IX applications, and students' due process rights. 


Radwan's act during the celebration of her team's victory led to her prompt suspension from the tournament. She was also sent a letter of reprimand by the American Athletic Conference, of which UConn is a member. This has been standard procedure when student-athletes make obscene gestures. Later, UConn stripped her of her one-year full athletic scholarship at the recommendation of her coach and agreement by the rest of the coaching staff, Sports Administrator, and Athletic Director. UConn claimed she engaged in serious misconduct of the student-athlete handbook, which was grounds for reducing or canceling her scholarship. [2] 


Radwan was made aware of the loss of her scholarship over winter break. After the tournament game, Radwan was suspended from the team for the rest of the fall semester. She describes feeling ostracized, unable to attend team events or wear gear identifying herself as a UConn athlete. After being informed of her scholarship’s revocation, Radwan decided to file a lawsuit against UConn. [3]


As previously mentioned, the suit alleged violations of Radwans First Amendment rights, due process rights, and Title IX. The distinct court granted summary judgment to the individual defendants under qualified immunity but found that Radwan had basis for her First Amendment claims. The individual defendants being public employees, who were found to have acted reasonably within their station, were protected from individual lawsuits. [4] This district court found against Radwan's claim of due process violation, finding that her scholarship was not a constitutionally protected property interest. [5] On Title IX, the district court again found against Radwan, who wrote that she failed to show any male UConn student-athletes in similar situations who received better treatment than her. [6] 


Radwan appealed to the Second Circuit, citing that the district court had set an impossible standard of proof for Title IX. This standard would require evidence of a male player receiving a less severe punishment from the same coach for the same behavior. Radwan notes how unlikely this would be to happen since single-sex collegiate athletic teams nearly never have the same coaches. However, she does give two examples of male UConn student-athletes whose conduct was punished more leniently for what she calls worse behavior. [7]

The Second Circuit accepted Radwan's appeal and issued findings different from the district courts. Regarding the First Amendment, the Second Circuit affirmed the district courts granting of summary judgment and qualified immunity for the defendants. The court reasoned that any reasonable official would not have recognized what the defendants did as unconstitutional, allowing the individual defendants to be protected from a lawsuit against their person. [8] On Radwan's due process claims, the Second Circuit disagrees with the district court. They state that her scholarship is a constitutionally protected interest. However, because that rule was not clear at the time, the defendants are again entitled to qualified immunity. [9] If Radwan wanted to sue UConn on her First Amendment and due process claims she could, but for this case those issues are moot. Finally, the Second Circuit found that a rational jury could find that Radwan was discriminated against for her gender and remanded the case back to the district court. [10] 


Instead of a possible jury trial, Radwan and UConn settled. Radwan received enough to pay off the student loans she accrued while playing soccer at Hofstra University after leaving UConn. The school also agreed to revise its student handbook to clarify how much time students had to appeal the loss of a scholarship. [11] This is an issue Radwan brought up when detailing her story. [12]


The different social standards that men and women face should not affect the discipline they receive for indiscretions. It is hard to imagine a male athlete losing his scholarship for being caught on camera raising their middle finger. In fact, earlier this year, an NC State male basketball player was caught slyly showing both his middle fingers to a referee. The reaction was for people to make jokes about it online. [13] Radwan likely wishes her actions had been received the same way.



[1] Radwan v. Manuel, 1 20-2194 (2022).

[2] Id at 12.

[3] Noriana Radwan, A Middle Finger Cost Me My Livelihood as a Woman Athlete (December 14, 2020), https://www.aclu.org/news/womens-rights/a-middle-finger-cost-me-my-livelihood-as-a-woman-athlete.

[4] Supra note 1 at 25.

[5] Id at 49.

[6] Id at 66.

[7] Supra note 3.

[8] Supra note 1 at 27.

[9] Id at 50.

[10] Id at 95.

[11.] Associated Press, UConn settles lawsuit with soccer player who flipped off camera (July 20, 2023, 11:45 AM), https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/38041828/uconn-settles-lawsuit-soccer-player-flipped-camera.

[12] Supra note 3.

[13] Kevin Sweeny, Cameras Caught NC State Player Flipping Ref Double Birds, and Fans Had Jokes (January 17, 2024), https://www.si.com/college/2024/01/17/nc-state-dj-horn-flips-ref-double-birds.


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