By Shelby Chiasson || Since 2005, James Finley has coached conference winning volleyball teams at Virginia Commonwealth University. His players have consistently placed at the top of the Colonial Athletic Association since the beginning of his tenure at the university. Late in November, Finley was terminated from his position.
He believes it was because he is homosexual.
While investigations conclude discrimination was not a factor in Finley’s termination, details remain murky. The report verifies that Finley did not violate VCU’s employment practices and policies. VCU officials have vehemently stated that the decision to fire Finley had nothing to do with discriminatory decisions based on the coach’s sexuality.
Current athletic director Ed McLaughlin joined the VCU staff in August. Finley has stated that McLaughlin never initiated a conversation with him or spoke with his players. The coach claimed that the first time McLaughlin invited him into his office to speak was when he fired him.
“He didn’t offer any explanation whatsoever,” said Finley.
Last week, McLaughlin released a statement.
“Our program needs a different direction and different leadership to attain our goals of achieving at an elite level nationally,” said McLaughlin.
The decision was made after Finley led his team to finish the season with a record of 25-6, the best mark of Finlay’s career.
Finley’s termination shocked athletes and students alike. According to investigative documents, McLaughlin spoke to the team after Finley’s dismissal. According to senior Kristin Boyd, the athletics director told the team “they deserve better” and that he “wanted to find someone who better represented the university.”
James Finley’s reputation is nothing short of spectacular. Former VCU athletic director Norwood Teague described Finley as “one of the most committed coaches I have ever been around.”
Though Finley has received job offers from other schools, he wants his job at VCU back.
“I would love nothing more than to re-join the athletic staff at VCU and get back to work. Though we’ve come miles since I first joined VCU eight years ago, there’s a lot of work still to do with the team and I hope I’m able to be a part of that work,” he said recently.
Winthrop’s athletic director, Tom Hickman, stated his opinion on the incident. “In my 24 years at Winthrop, I’m sure we have had some coaches or staff members who had same-sex preferences,” said Hickman. “But it’s not something that we take into account when we are looking into hiring a new staff member.”
A petition is currently circulating to reinstate Finley at VCU. Currently, the petition has over 11,000 signatures. Despite how his time at VCU came to a conclusion, many in his field consider Finley a respectable and talented coach.
Finley married his husband, John Sternlicht, in 2010. They reside in Virginia with Sternlicht’s son from a previous marriage.
Finley and his husband have been working constantly on appealing the decision. Despite other schools reaching out with offers for Finley, VCU is where he wants to be. If he is not reinstated to the position, the two may consider legal action.
“You always want to be judged on your work,” said Finley. “Not on who you love.”