PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic Washington State University football player Kassidy Woods filed a federal lawsuit against his controversial coach over COVID policy, the racial justice movement and a secretly recorded phone conversation.
Nearly a year-and-a-half later the wide receiver has dropped his legal battle. The reason is unclear.
In August 2021, Woods’ lawsuit contended his civil rights were violated when coach Nick Rolovich kicked him off the football team after complaining about potential exposure to COVID-19 and for joining an association of Black student-athletes.
“Rolovich’s acts were racist, intentional, malicious, willful, wanton, and in gross and reckless disregard of Woods’ constitutional rights,” the lawsuit said — and contended Woods had a recorded phone conversation to prove it.
In January 2023, lawyers for Woods dismissed the lawsuit without explanation. Attempts by KOIN 6 News to reach them for comment have been unsuccessful.
“Mr. Woods elected to withdraw his case. There was no settlement,” wrote Phil Weiler, WSU Vice President for Marketing and Communications. “I don’t know what led him to make that decision, however, his attorney may be able to shed light on his reasoning.”
Rolovich has his own federal lawsuit pending against WSU and Washington Governor Jay Inslee accusing them of job discrimination after he was fired for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Rolovich contends university officials were “hostile” when they denied him a religious exemption due to his Catholic faith and fired him from his $3 million a year coaching job midway through the 2021 season.
His lawsuit does not state a dollar value, but prior to filing it, he made a $25 million tort claim with WSU saying he intended to sue.
He was the highest-paid public employee in the state at the time and had more than three years left on his five-year contract.
On March 14, 2023 his lawyers filed a motion with the federal judge in Spokane demanding a jury trial.
How it began
In June 2020, WSU started asking athletes to voluntarily return to campus to participate in football-related activities, Woods’ lawsuit said. The school promised to take precautions to prevent athletes from catching COVID-19, the lawsuit said.
That was important to Kassidy Woods, who carries the sickle cell trait and was susceptible to the virus, the lawsuit said.
“Unfortunately, the promised environment of campus as the ‘safest place’ for athletes was a complete fabrication by Defendants,” the lawsuit said.
About a month later, Woods and another player met with Rolovich to discuss the #WeAreUnited movement, their concerns regarding the health risks associated with their athletic participation and the apparent lack of planning or testing, the lawsuit said.
On August 1, 2020, Woods and Rolovich had an additional conversation. Woods told Rolovich that, due to his health concerns, he was going to opt out of the 2020 football season, the lawsuit said.
Rolovich responded by asking if Woods was a part of the #WeAreUnited group. Woods said he was, the lawsuit said. Rolovich told Woods that opting out for health reasons was fine, but being involved with #WeAreUnited was a problem, the lawsuit said.
Lawyers for Rolovich and WSU countered in federal court filings that the phone call with Woods was misconstrued and explained that a consequence of opting out of the season meant Woods would need to clean out his locker to limit the number of people around the team due to COVID.
Woods’ lawyers painted a different scenario.
“Defendants took blatant steps to remove Woods from the WSU football team and send a clear, chilling message to those remaining on the team: joining the #WeAreUnited
movement results in complete removal, ostracism, and isolation,” the lawsuit said.
In his answer to Woods’ lawsuit, lawyers for Rolovich and WSU said Woods scholarship was not in jeopardy.
“Rolovich also sought to clarify if Woods was boycotting the season for reasons related to the demands issued by the student-athlete group to the PAC-12. Rolovich explained to Woods that boycotting the season as part of the student-athlete group demands would likely be treated differently than opting out for personal health reasons related to COVID. Rolovich again confirmed he had no objection to Woods opting out for COVID-related reasons.”
Woods, who grew up in Addison, Texas landed at Northern Colorado after entering the transfer portal. He announced in January he will transfer from Northern Colorado as a graduate student with one year of eligibility remaining.
KOIN 6 News has attempted to reach Rolovich and Woods through their lawyers, but has not heard back.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.