Noriana Radwan was an 18-year-old freshman soccer player at the University of Connecticut when her team won the 2014 American Athletic Conference championship game.
An ESPNU television camera focused on Radwan as she cheered and hugged her teammates on the field, and she enthusiastically threw up her left middle finger. She never imagined this one gesture ― for which she says she has since “profusely apologized” ― would destroy her career as a UConnn student-athlete.
A few weeks after the incident, then-head coach Len Tsantiris called Radwan to let her know her scholarship would be terminated mid-year for what he called a “serious misconduct issue.”
Nearly two years after that phone call, Radwan is still fighting back.
She announced at a press conference on Monday that she’s filing a lawsuit against UConn and three people associated with the decision to end her scholarship: Tsantiris, the university’s former athletic director and the director of student financial aid.
Radwan’s layer, Greg Tarone, said UConn and the involved individuals violated his client’s First Amendment rights and the NCAA Division I bylaws.
Radwan is asking the school for financial retribution, The Associated Press reports.
“I loved UConn, but I lost faith in it as an institution when it allowed my scholarship to be illegally taken away so abruptly and crassly in the middle of the school year,” Radwan said. “Nobody should have to go through what I have gone through in the past two years. Only litigation will stop it.”
Watch the press conference below:
Tarone called UConn’s termination of Radwan’s scholarship “atrocious,” and said he believes sexism played a role in the university’s decision.
“We’re here because she’s a female student-athlete who was treated differently than male student-athletes at UConn by the institution,” Tarone said. “One misguided individual, Coach Tsantiris, led the way for a couple of others to complicity violate her civil rights.”
He cited several recent incidents involving male UConn student-athletes who received little to no disciplinary action from the university despite having been accused of more “serious misconduct” than Radwan.
For example, a freshman football player named Brian Cespedes was charged last week with misdemeanor assault and breach of peace for his involvement in an off-campus fight in September. UConn spokesman Kyle Muncy told the New Haven Register that the coaching staff was “made aware of the incident and addressed it,” but that Cespedes had not been kicked off the team.
Tarone said he also believes Tsantiris was motivated to remove Radwan from his team to free up scholarship money and make room for then-Notre Dame mid-fielder Morgan Andrews. (Andrews ended up choosing to play at the University of Southern California.)
Tarone said a section of the NCAA bylaws does permit a school to cancel a scholarship mid-year for “serious misconduct,” but that this type of misconduct is undefined.
“A common sense applied to the word ‘serious’ means misconduct that would significantly worry or cause injury to somebody,” Tarone said. “Noriana’s [gesture] could not possibly be characterized in the same realm of unacceptable conduct by a student-athlete on any campus in this country ― none.”
Radwan, who is currently playing for Hofstra University after receiving a partial athletic scholarship, said the psychological and emotional agony of being kicked off UConn’s team had been “overwhelming.”
“Please understand that I did not intend to offend anyone,” Radwan said. “I was making a celebratory statement that was seriously misinterpreted and misjudged.”
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz told the AP that the school had not seen the lawsuit and wasn’t able to comment on it because of federal privacy laws.
“In an excited moment, as an 18-year-old after winning her first championship, her one little mistake cost her everything,” Tarone said. “Loyalists to the UConn Huskies brand should ask themselves if they want this to happen to their daughter.”