Ole Miss football player sues Lane Kiffin, school over handling of mental health issues

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An Ole Miss defensive tackle filed a lawsuit against football coach Lane Kiffin and the university Thursday, alleging denial of equal protection, racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and more.

DeSanto Rollins, a member of the football team since 2020, alleged in the lawsuit that Kiffin kicked him off the team “because he requested to take a mental health break due to the anxiety, depression and mental stress he was suffering.” Rollins also said he suffered multiple injuries in 2022 that caused severe depression and anxiety and that the university failed to provide him with mental health educational materials.

The lawsuit alleges Kiffin intentionally took “adverse action” against Rollins “on account of race, for requesting and taking a mental health break, but not taking adverse action against white student-athletes for requesting and taking a mental health break.” It also alleges sexual discrimination for taking the same action against Rollins, “but not taking adverse action against female student-athletes.”

The lawsuit additionally alleges Rollins was “disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act” and was qualified to play for the school, “but he was kicked off the football team by Kiffin because of his disability.”

The lawsuit states that Rollins suffered “physical pain and emotional distress and anguish” as a result of Kiffin and others’ “actions and inactions.”

Rollins is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Oxford Division.

Ole Miss’ athletics department said Friday morning it had not received the lawsuit.

“DeSanto was never removed from the football team and remains on scholarship,” a statement from Ole Miss said. “In addition, he continues to have the opportunity to receive all of the resources and advantages that are afforded a student-athlete at the university.”

According to the lawsuit, Rollins suffered a concussion, an Achilles tendon injury and an LCL injury in his left knee in April, July and August 2022, respectively.

On Nov. 28, 2022, he had an exit meeting with defensive line coach Randall Joyner, who pressured him to enter the transfer portal, according to the lawsuit. Rollins did not transfer.

On Jan. 6, 2023, Rollins’ grandmother died, and he “continued to suffer severe depression, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, humiliation, feeling of worthlessness, sadness, loss of sleep, and loss of appetite” after she passed, according to the lawsuit.

Rollins and Kiffin met on Feb. 27, and the coach told Rollins he was being moved from defensive tackle to the scout team on the offensive line because he would not transfer, according to the lawsuit.

“Kiffin yelled at Rollins in a hostile and verbally threatening tone telling him that he was the coach and Rollins was the player, and if he didn’t like it then he should quit,” the lawsuit states.

Rollins told Kiffin he was going to take a mental health break “because of the verbal abuse from Kiffin and the mental anxiety, depression, and worthlessness he was feeling,” per the lawsuit. The next day, after his mother contacted an Ole Miss athletic trainer, Rollins met with Josie Nicholson, the assistant athletic director for sport psychology, who encouraged him to talk with the trainer about “taking a step back from football in order to take care of his mental health,” according to the lawsuit.

Joyner contacted Rollins on March 1 to tell him Kiffin wanted to meet with him again, the lawsuit states. Rollins had a follow-up session with Nicholson on March 7, but “did not want to meet with Kiffin yet “because he was not in a good place,” according to the suit. After the coaching staff and training staff continued to contact Rollins about it, he met with Kiffin on March 21, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges “Kiffin maliciously, deliberately, intentionally, and in blatant disregard for the rights and health of Rollins verbally assaulted him during the March 21, 2023 meeting knowing that Rollins was suffering mental and emotional anxiety, distress and depression.” The lawsuit includes a transcript of the alleged meeting.

Rollins told Kiffin he informed the strength and conditioning coach he was going to take a mental break, which is why he hadn’t shown up for two weeks, according to the lawsuit.

“OK, you have a f—ing head coach, this is a job, guess what, if I have mental issues and I’m not diminishing them, I can’t not see my f—ing boss,” Kiffin said, according to the lawsuit. “When you were told again and again the head coach needs to see you, wasn’t to make you practice, wasn’t to play a position you don’t f—ing want to, OK, it was to talk to you and explain to you in the real world, OK, so I don’t give a f— what your mom says, OK, or what you think is the real f—ing world you show up to work, and then you say hey I have mental issues, OK.”

The lawsuit alleges that Kiffin told him he was off the team. “Go, go and guess what, we can kick you off the team, so go read your f—ing rights about mental health, we can kick you off the team, for not showing up, when the head coach asks to meet with you and you don’t show up for weeks, OK, we can remove you from the team.”

Rollins remains on Ole Miss’ online roster. The Baton Rouge, La., native appeared in one game in 2021 and two in 2022.

(Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today)

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