DeSanto Rollins sues Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin over handling of mental health issues

Field Level Media

September 15, 2023 at 4:32 pm.

Ole Miss defensive tackle DeSanto Rollins is suing football coach Lane Kiffin and the university for failure to provide equal protection, racial and sexual discrimination and other allegations, according to multiple media reports.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in a U.S. District Court, Rollins said Kiffin kicked him off the team in March for missing practices and meetings while he was facing mental health issues. Those issues, Rollins contends, came as a result of numerous injuries in his career and an alleged demotion to the scout team as an offensive lineman.

Rollins is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages, a temporary restraining order and an injunction re-instating him.

Rollins, who is Black, alleges that Kiffin took action against him “on account of race for requesting and taking a mental health break, but not taking adverse action against white student athletes (for similar reasons),” per the lawsuit.

Rollins also alleges sexual discrimination, stating the university has not taken “adverse action against female student-athletes (on the volleyball and softball teams) for requesting and taking a mental health break.”

The university said Thursday night that it had not received the lawsuit.

“DeSanto was never removed from the football team and remains on scholarship,” Ole Miss wrote in a statement Thursday to ESPN. “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.”

Kiffin declined to comment and deferred to the university’s statement.

In the lawsuit, Rollins said his injuries included a concussion in the spring of 2022 and an Achilles tendon that July that led to “severe depression, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, humiliation, a loss of sleep and loss of appetite.”

Rollins was not provided with materials about mental health or a referral after the injury, according to the lawsuit. He returned to practice, only to aggravate a previous ligament injury in his left knee.

He said he was pressured by defensive line coach Randall Joyner to enter the transfer portal in a Nov. 28, 2022 meeting and he declined.

After Rollins’ grandmother died on Jan. 6, he “continued to suffer severe depression,” per the lawsuit.

He said he was moved from defensive tackle to scout team offensive line, with Kiffin telling him in February that “if he didn’t like it, then he should quit,” according to the lawsuit.

Rollins told the coach he was taking a mental health break. He met on Feb. 28 with Josie Nicholson, the school’s assistant athletic director for sport psychology, who encouraged him to take time off.

Rollins said Joyner told him March 1 that Kiffin wanted to meet with him. At a March 7 meeting with Nicholson, Rollins said he wasn’t ready at the time.

He met with Kiffin on March 21, recording the meeting, according to the lawsuit. Their conversation became confrontational, with Kiffin allegedly saying, “Get out of here. Go, you’re off the team. You’re done. See ya. Go.

“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, we can remove you from the team.”

In the lawsuit, Rollins cited a “mental impairment” for being kicked off the team due to a mental health disability, which the lawsuit says is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rollins, 21, is an honor student on pace to graduate with a degree in general business in December. A redshirt junior, the native of Baton Rouge, La., played in two games in 2022 and one in 2021 at defensive line.

Kiffin spoke during the SEC Football Media Days in July in Nashville about Ole Miss establishing mandatory mental health training for all coaches and players.

“This mental health area is not in that old-school coaching book at all,” Kiffin said. “It was, ‘Hey, shut up and go practice and play,’ especially in the sport of football. Just over the years in going through so many mental health issues with our players and coaches and not having tools or a good system in place — besides just sending them across campus to a mental health specialist.

“I was excited to do (training) with that and excited for the education with that,” he added. “The ability to see things and help our players is really neat. They just go through so much.”

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