LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Butler High School’s baseball coach is under investigation after a player’s father claims his son was subjected to racial slurs by his teammates.
Chris Ryan, who is in his first year as Butler’s coach, was pulled from the team April 22 after the teenager’s father brought concerns to school administrators, according to attorney Thomas Clay, who represents Ryan. Clay said his client was blindsided by the allegations that he didn’t do enough to address the issue.
But Gary Austin, whose son was a senior on this year’s Butler baseball team, said that’s not the case. He told WDRB News that other players used racial epithets toward him during school, in the locker room, on the baseball diamond, in text messages and on social media, and it’s been going on for seasons at Butler.
Austin said he met with Ryan, Principal William Allen and Athletic Director Mike Crawley in February and raised his concerns about his son’s treatment.
Austin said he asked Ryan, who teaches biology at Doss High School and coached baseball there for three seasons before accepting the Butler job, to “do something about it because it was unfair.”
“That’s when he went on to tell me that I see it as a problem, he did not see it as a problem, and there’s nothing that he could do about it,” Austin said in a phone interview with WDRB News.
His biggest issue was the use of the n-word, which he said Ryan dismissed as inconsequential.
“He said that he hears it all the time, and he said that he can’t do anything about it,” Austin said. “If he had to stop and do something about that every single time he heard it, he would not even be able to do his job appropriately.”
However, Clay contends the player’s parents never gave his client a chance to handle any specific allegations, because they never brought them to him. He called the claims “totally untrue and unfounded” and that the player’s parents “never made any effort to discuss it with Coach Ryan.”
“One of the most frustrating things about this whole investigation is Coach Ryan didn’t know anything about what the allegations were,” Clay said. “He was unaware. Nobody brought them to his attention, and I think anybody can be assured that if they had been brought to his attention, he would have taken affirmative and positive action to address these comments.”
“When there were ever any problems like that previously, Coach Ryan addressed them head-on and promptly,” he added, noting that his client has never been accused of racism in his coaching career.
Ryan said he made his views against the use of racial slurs very clear to his team in the fall.
“Prior to all these complaints, they knew where I stood in terms of using any version of the n-word,” he said.
Jefferson County Public Schools is looking into Austin’s allegations. District spokesman Daniel Kemp said the investigation is ongoing. Clay said it was the principal, not JCPS, who told him to take leave from the team. JCPS did not say whether the district reassigned Ryan pending its investigation.
Clay speculated that a lack of playing time was a factor in the complaint against Ryan.
“His statistics didn’t indicate he should be playing,” Clay said. “… It sounds like there’s an agenda here that’s not consistent with the best ball players playing on the team.”
Austin, however, said playing time isn’t an issue for him. He said he first brought his complaints to Butler’s attention in February before the season even started.
“I don’t have any revenge,” he said. “That’s not why I brought up the concerns.”
Some parents of Butler baseball players say the situation greatly affected the team’s play at the end of the season. The team was 10-6 before Ryan was replaced by an interim coach and finished the season 8-9, including losses in the 22nd District finals and in the first round of the 6th Region tournament.
An online petition to reinstate Ryan as Butler’s baseball coach has reached 583 signatures.
“It destroyed the morale of the team,” said the father of a sophomore player, who requested anonymity to protect his son from retaliation. “They lost their coach.”
“He said it ruined their year, that they didn’t have any sense of team, that they were just ready to get it over with,” said the mother of a senior player, who also requested anonymity out of fear that her son could face retaliation. “It just threw a wrench in everything.”
Rosa Boling said her son, a sophomore on Butler’s squad this year, said he’s leaving the team based on this season’s turmoil. She praised Ryan for taking time to give her son tips on building strength and keeping an open line of communication with parents.
“I hope that he gets to come back and coach baseball even if my son doesn’t go back,” she said. “Those kids deserve a good coach, and he’s a good coach. He’s a good guy.”
Asked why he didn’t bring forward and concerns from past seasons, Austin said he reached a point where he felt like he needed to take action this year.
“It just gets to the point where you have to make a stand for something that you believe in,” he said. "... This season has probably been the worst."
For Ryan, Clay says he’s just hoping for another chance to show Butler what he can offer as a baseball coach once the district’s investigation wraps up.
“Coach Ryan wants to be reinstated to his position and do the job he was hired to do,” Clay said.
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