Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Overview of Kim Russell’s Comments on Transgender Athletes

Initial Events

On March 20, 2022, former Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach Kim Russell reposted on her Instagram story a post that read, “Congratulations to Emma Weyant, the real woman who won the NCAA 500-yard freestyle event,” in response to Lia Thomas winning the 500-yard freestyle in the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships. She captioned the repost, “What do you believe? I can’t be quiet on this… I’ve spent my life playing sports, starting & coaching sports programs for girls & women…”

Russell joined the Oberlin Athletics Department in 2018 as head coach of women’s lacrosse. She played Division I lacrosse at the College of William and Mary and previously coached at Magnificat High School in Rocky River, OH; Baldwin Wallace University; and IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. 

A student reported Russell’s comments to Associate Vice President of Athletics Natalie Winkelfoos. The next day, Russell met with both Winkelfoos and Senior Associate Director of Athletics Creg Jantz to discuss her comments, which Russell recorded on her phone. Ohio is known as a one-party consent state, which means that recording an in-person or phone conversation is legal with the consent of only one party, barring criminal intent. Russell also met with the women’s lacrosse team and was asked to apologize. After meeting with the lacrosse players, Russell met again with Winkelfoos and was asked to write a letter of apology, and Winkelfoos held another meeting with Russell, the women’s lacrosse team, and several other administrative officials. 

She continued to coach the season and the 2022 team ended with a 6–9 record. Shortly after the end of the season, Russell said that she received a letter from Winkelfoos, which would be placed in her file in the Human Resources department, stating she needed to change her behavior. 

Since then, Russell has said that she refuses to apologize for the post and for her beliefs about transgender women on women’s athletic teams. 

The Story Breaks

On Aug. 29, USA Today released a piece on Russell by columnist Ingrid Jacques detailing what occurred. The same day, the International Women’s Forum also published an eight-minute documentary called “Burned at the Stake: One NCAA Coach’s Battle to Protect Women’s Sports,” which documented the events of the previous year and included a screenshot of Russell’s Instagram story, as well as audio recordings of Winkelfoos, Jantz, and various lacrosse players that Russell recorded during the meetings.  

“I was burned at the stake,” Russell said about her experience in the IWF documentary. “I was stoned. I was basically told I was a horrible person, and it was heartbreaking, really.”

Within a week, news outlets such as the Daily Mail and Washington Times picked up Russell’s story. Russell was also praised by members of the Independent Women’s Forum such as former competitive college swimmer Riley Gaines. 

On Sept. 5, Russell was featured on Fox News for a four-minute segment on Laura Ingraham’s The Ingraham Angle. She was joined by her attorney May Mailman, a senior legal fellow for the Independent Women’s Law Center. During their time on air, Russell and Mailman discussed the statement Oberlin provided to Fox News and claimed that Russell broke no rules. Russell indicated that her contact with her players is limited and stated that “everything was still on the table” regarding legal action against the College. 

Three days later, The New York Post published an editorial from Russell. Much like the documentary, Russell’s editorial was a first-person account of her experience during this situation, defending her viewpoint and offering sympathy toward the players who disagreed with her.

“Oberlin — like many higher-level institutions these days — only seems to support the First Amendment if your values align with theirs,” she wrote. “Disagree, and you will be verbally and emotionally attacked, bullied, shunned, and vilified. Perhaps even ultimately forced out.”

On Sept. 11, Russell was reassigned as Employee Wellness Project Manager. Assistant Women’s Lacrosse Coach Erin Mitchell now serves as interim head women’s lacrosse coach. A day later, IWF released an article about her termination. Russell broke this announcement on Fox News’  America’s Newsroom and said that her new position would be one where she had no contact with the women’s lacrosse team. In another statement, the College wrote that Russell was only reassigned because she recorded students without their consent. 

“The decision to reassign Kim Russell to a new role in the Athletics department pertains to her breach of trust rather than any views she has expressed,” the College wrote. “Russell posted about trans athletes on social media 18 months ago, in March 2022. She coached an entire season after that. But when she recorded her student-athletes without their knowledge or consent, then shared those recordings with the media, she violated their trust in an irreparable way. This breach of trust — not her posts, feelings, or beliefs about trans athletes — is why she has been removed from her coaching duties. Russell is our new Employee Wellness Project Manager, which fits well with her skills, experience, and interests.”

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