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College Coach Resigns Over Relationship with Student; Interview with Beverly Kearney; Cancer Diagnosis as a Challenge; What's Getting

Tue, 01/08/2013 - 11:13am
The Associated Press

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with Beverly Kearney; Cancer Diagnosis as a Challenge; What's Getting

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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": So today marks legendary British rocker David Bowie's 65th birthday, 65. And Bowie's giving his fans a president. His first new music in a decade.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

Yes, it sounds like David Bowie. The new single, "Where Are We Now?" is on sale on iTunes today. A message on Bowie's Web site says a new album called "The Next Day" will be released in March. That's great.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that is great news.

So a track and field coach, Beverly Kearney has been coaching for 21 years at the University of Texas. She has six national championships under her belt. She has a storied career. Back in 2002 you might remember she was injured in a terrible car crash, she was told she would never walk again, and two people were killed in that car accident. She survived it and then she was able to walk, she ignored what the doctors were telling her, she walked again.

Now she has resigned after she admitted to what she calls a consensual intimate relationship with a student athlete who was on her team. She says the university basically said to her she had to resign or they were going to fire her, and she's saying now the punishment does not fit the crime. The added wrinkle in one of this she was negotiating a new contract and a big raise when this relationship that happened 10 years ago surfaced.

Beverly Kearney joins us now in Austin, Texas. I have to add, welcome, Miss Kearney, we appreciate your time this morning. We asked a rep from the University of Texas to join us on the program. That invitation was declined so we'll start with you. Walk me back to 2002, which is when this relationship with a student athlete who was a track athlete 2002, take me back to that time. How long did that relationship last for? Did you know that it was completely wrong to be dating a student on your track team?

BEVERLY KEARNEY, FORMER UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS TRACK AND FIELD COACH: Well, you know, if you're asking me from a legal perspective, it was something that I never really thought about from a legal perspective. Did I know as I engaged in it, you know you get caught up in the emotional and the physical components of a relationship, and the last thing you're doing is thinking rationally, but as the accident occurred, you know, there was a transformation that went on within me that really changed my perspective on life.

O'BRIEN: That was the accident --

KEARNEY: And life within itself.

O'BRIEN: The accident in 2002.

KEARNEY: Yes, in 2002.

O'BRIEN: So your relationship lasted I believe a few months, five months, correct? At that point did the relationship end?

KEARNEY: Prior to -- no, I can't say that it truly ended then, from a connective point, but I think that was the beginning of the end for the relationship, because I was pretty much paralyzed from the waist down. And as I said, my life totally changed after that accident. I think it probably took to really sever the relationship I can't tell you how many months after that, but it was within the next year going into the next season that it was pretty much over.

O'BRIEN: I ask about --

KEARNEY: You know --

O'BRIEN: Forgive for me interrupting. I ask about the time line because it's relevant in all of this. That was 2002. Now fast forward 2012.

KEARNEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You're negotiating a contract with a hefty raise, and this is brought up. Is that correct? Why do you think that is?

KEARNEY: You know, that is true. Why it was brought up, I had to finally come to embrace not knowing why, and I had to embrace it because the more you try to figure out why, the harder it is to forgive. And the one thing that I needed to do was to be able to move through the process in a loving manner without intent to do harm, and the only way to do that is through forgiveness.

And until I could forgive the people that came, because I don't believe that this was a situation where one person initiated all of this, but in order to forgive myself, I had to forgive everybody else around me, and that was the most important thing for me is that I've always tried to live my life in a manner that I did not want to do harm, and it's always been easier for me to forgive others, but this was a challenge for me to forgive myself for making a poor decision.

O'BRIEN: So it sounds like you think 10 years later there were people around you and maybe even your lover herself, the student, who ratted you out, is that fair to say?

KEARNEY: Oh, yes, that's fair.

O'BRIEN: The employee handbook for your school, University of Texas s fairly straightforward, says this, "Employees in positions of authority who enter into or persist in consensual romantic or sexual relationships without reporting them or who fail to cooperate in efforts to eliminate the conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety they present will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination." You never reported the relationship at the time. Did those rules seem clear to you, that this is a fire-able offense?

KEARNEY: You know, I didn't know that there was even a rule on the book, and I think the rule had come into play maybe a year prior to the relationship, and I don't ever even remember reading such a rule. But, you know, it talked about disclosure, and you know, I was never -- throughout the whole process, the disclosure part was never brought to me as to why I was being terminated. I was being terminated as a result of the relationship, and at that point, I said then, has everyone else been terminated as a point of reference of having had a relationship, and the answer was, is that we don't view those the same as yours.

O'BRIEN: Because you're a head coach and those other relationships were not head coach?

KEARNEY: Professors, professors or administrators or anyone. And to me, I don't see how you distinguish between the value of one student over another because of what they do, whether it's a musician, a musical student, a business student or an athlete, I think the one thing that I hired an attorney for is not to deny, because the moment it was brought to my attention I openly admitted to its existence. And so it was never to deny, it was just to guarantee I was given equal treatment because I had grown to not trust the university that I served in terms of equal treatment.

O'BRIEN: Your attorney has said that there are male counterparts who have engaged in similar conduct which I think in a nutshell means sleeping with a student who is hierarchically lower than them on the kind of scale there, and have not been given a similar punishment. He has not though named who he's talking about. Why not? To me that seems it would be very straightforward to say listen here are the three head coaches or coaches or professors who have done similar things and look, they still have their jobs.

KEARNEY: Well, you know, I think that they're in the process of the open records act. But, you know, for me, the most important thing was the application, you know, I never denied that what I did was wrong, absolutely. And I don't know how many people would come forth and say, wow, I just made this huge mistake, whether it was a year later, two years later, 10 years later, and say I made this huge mistake.

The only thing I think we can ask of each other is to continue to self-evaluate and self-correct, but I think the institutions have to begin to do that. They have to do self-evaluations and self- corrections and not protection. It has circled the wagons on me, and I feel like I've been a casualty within this whole process not because I was innocent, but all I've asked for was fair due process and equal treatment as opposed to how everyone else that had been under similar circumstances have had. O'BRIEN: What does that mean for your legal case? It sounds to me you're saying listen if there's a professor, who had a relationship with his student and he was not fired or if there was a coach who had a relationship with a student and that person was not fired, then I'm being treated unfairly. What -- why would you be treated unfairly? Is it a race thing, is it a gender thing? Is it the fact it's a female student? What do you think is at the core of it?

KEARNEY: You know, I have been under extreme stress and turned in for internally for years at UT and always come out of it never having made any mistakes, because of my record, it's pristine there. At a certain point you have to stop asking why. I stopped wondering is it because I have a disability, is it because I'm black, is it because I'm female, is it because I'm successful, is it now because of my sexual preference? I don't know.

And to me, at a certain point when it's happening to you, continuously, you begin to only want it to stop and that's why my concern has been I really wanted to have peace of mind and that's what I've gone to the university before, even before all of this came to light is to stop the harassment. I don't know why it's been happening.

O'BRIEN: What do you want? Do you want your job back? Do you want them to fire the professors -- I know your attorney has said that there are, he's going to I guess come forth with some names and some specifics down the road, you want those people to lose their jobs? What would you like out of it all?

KEARNEY: No, I don't want anybody to lose their job. I don't want to create harm to anyone. But I do want to bring to light that you don't get to arbitrarily administer your rules and decide who is punished at what levels because of something that you don't like, because you never know if it's because of that particular situation or is it because of the fact that you may be harboring some type of ill will towards that individual.

I think that everyone should deserve an opportunity to have fair treatment based upon your policies, whether something is morally acceptable to an individual or not, our law says it's about the application of the law, and then at some point, there ought to be some form of consideration for that person's past history, they didn't find a prior relationship or a subsequent relationship.

O'BRIEN: And 21 years, 21 years at the University of Texas, six national championships.

KEARNEY: And it goes all the way back to my entire career from, I started coaching when I was 21 years old, and I've never had any violations, I've never stepped outside the lines, and every time, and even in this situation I self-corrected the situation myself, I admitted to it when brought to me. And even after I admitted it, they sent me through an eight-week investigation for something, for other things and ended up firing me for something that I admitted to from the beginning. Why does someone have to suffer through all of that, and they even called me in on December 26th, the 10th anniversary of the accident, to fire me?

O'BRIEN: We're obviously going to watch this case closely because I would like to see how this is being applied across the board to everybody at the University of Texas, and what the legal arguments will be in the case. Beverly Kearney, thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

KEARNEY: I definitely appreciate you and I just wanted to also say that I wanted to apologize to anyone that my behavior has often or disappointed, and I take full responsibility for what I've done. But I also want the university to take full responsibility and ownership for what it's done as well.

O'BRIEN: We will see what they have to say about that. Nice to talk to you, coach. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

KEARNEY: OK, god bless, thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, likewise.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we'll talk about the consumer electronics show, self-driving cars and TVs that take high- def to a new level. That's all ahead. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone.

Some stories we're watching this morning: beta blockers may reduce the risk of dementia. They're a class of drugs used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure, glaucoma and migraines. Researchers autopsied hundreds of men with beta blockers before they died and found the patients had fewer Alzheimer's brain lesions and less brain atrophy than other study participants.

Astronomers working with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope report that one in six stars has an earth-sized planet in close orbit. The Kepler Observatory has so far spotted more than 2,700 possible planets including more than 460 earth-sized planets in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist. And based on those numbers, scientists say there could be a total of 17 billion Earth-sized planets in our very own Milky Way Galaxy.

O'BRIEN: I can't get over that.

BERMAN: It's just beyond imagination. All right.

So is this. Check this out.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: That looks cute. What is that?

BERMAN: It's a kangaroo. Police chasing a kangaroo inside a parking garage in Melbourne Airport for two hours yesterday. This kangaroo was in the airport just running wild. A wildlife rescue officer had to be called in to tranquilize the animal and capture him. It's OK though, the kangaroo is fine. The three year old gray kangaroo is being treated for some damage to his feet, and when that's all done, he will be released back into the wild.

So good news from Australia on this kangaroo this morning.

O'BRIEN: Oh they're so cute -- they're so cute but they're supposed to be kind of mean little animals.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, not as -- not as -- personality is not quite as cute.

O'BRIEN: Like koalas look very cuddly; very, very tough.

BERMAN: What's going on in Australia?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

Let's talk a little bit about a cancer diagnosis which obviously could be devastating and life-changing. There's a man whose name is Don Wright and he used his diagnosis as a challenge. What he decided to do was that he would continue to run marathons in spite of his diagnosis and then decided he would run a marathon in each and every state.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has his story, it's this week's "Human Factor."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don Wright's career spanned engineering, being a company vice president and the law. And at age 62 he discovered a new passion, marathons. Nine years ago just days after running his first 26-mile race, he got some devastating news.

DON WRIGHT, MARATHON RUNNER/CANCER PATIENT: I had gone to the doctor a couple of times for pain in my back. It was multiple myeloma.

GUPTA: This is a cancer of the blood where the white blood cells invade the bone marrow causing pain, usually in the back or the ribs, and patients are rarely cured.

WRIGHT: I've got this devastating diagnosis. My family and I, we just kept on going. There wasn't any reason to stop and be sorry.

GUPTA: On December 9th under a hot Hawaiian sun, Wright now 71 reached his seemingly impossible goal, running a marathon in all 50 states.

WRIGHT: It feels wonderful, I'll tell you. A philosophy of life that I have is live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece and that was a masterpiece.

GUPTA: Wright wasn't sure he could fulfill his dream because the median survival for his cancer is just five years. He's had a number of treatments that have failed but for the last four and a half years, Wright's taken an experimental drug, with just one pill at night that's worked. It's kept the cancer at bay.

WRIGHT: I can still run, and I can still enjoy life and I'm -- I'm riding that for all it's worth.

GUPTA: His advice to others facing what seem like insurmountable odds, take charge of your own destiny and never give up hope.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Oh I love that story so much.

CAIN: Have you run a marathon?

O'BRIEN: No, but I've cheered people on. Does that count?

CAIN: John, you look like you've run a marathon.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAIN: Richard?

SOCARIDES: Me neither.

CAIN: Let's do Sanjay triathlon.

O'BRIEN: Do 50; do one in every state. Come on.

CAIN: Let's start with one.

SOCARIDES: Let's start with one. How about a half marathon?

O'BRIEN: I'm going to do what I can, exactly two or five k with me will be fine.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, self-driving cars; really, really, really high-def TVs, they're some of the highlights of the this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

We've got a preview that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

It's that time of the year where the tech companies show off their slickest, edgiest, most innovative gadgets, the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas that kicks off today. Dan Simon has an early look for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a January tradition here in Las Vegas as crews work furiously to get the booths and exhibits ready for the start of the Consumer Electronics Show. More than 150,000 people are expected to roam these vast halls over the next couple of days to get a glimpse of the technologies that might hit the store shelves in the coming year.

TVs are always the biggest crowd draw at CES. Last couple of years the companies who are pushing 3D TVs, they didn't really take off but consumers this year they're hoping that a technology called Ultra HD will win over consumers, these are screens that have four times the resolution as a typical HD TV but they're expensive. Some of these sets cost as much as a car.

And speaking of cars, they're becoming a bigger deal every year at CES. This year you'll hear the term connected car a lot. That means using your smartphone for a lot of different things including using the phone to start the car on those especially cold winter days.

Another big theme: home automation, run your home from wherever you are. This category used to be for people who are really wealthy, now these products are a lot more affordable and it's about being able to control your lights, your thermostat, your appliances, while on the go.

And of course look for the latest innovations in PCs, tablets and cameras, more than 3,000 companies are on display here, all of them really vying for one thing, attention.

Dan Simon, CNN, Las Vegas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: I don't know about the self-driving cars though. I don't see those really, would you buy a self-driving car?

BERMAN: No, I like to drive. It takes the fun out of driving.

O'BRIEN: All the fun out of driving, that's the whole point.

SOCARIDES: But you know what they say, what they say it can do is it can park, it can parallel park and also the whole idea behind --

O'BRIEN: Mary Bono Mack has a car that parallel parks electronically.

BERMAN: Really?

O'BRIEN: Yes that's what she was telling us yesterday.

SOCARIDES: Yes and they say self-driving automobiles are good for things that are like routine like farm trucks and stuff like that. I've been watching the show yesterday.

O'BRIEN: Clearly, obviously you were.

CAIN: Will I'll be driving it. SOCARIDES: That's good I wonder if Will Cain was watching the show.

O'BRIEN: I was betting against that, I don't five years. I've been wrong before. "End Point" is up next. Be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our "End Point" this morning begins with Richard Socarides. Interesting article that you wrote in NewYorker.com.

SOCARIDES: Well thank you, thank you. You know I think this Hormel nomination is going to be a big fight it's clearly --

CAIN: Hagel.

O'BRIEN: Hormel is the --

SOCARIDES: Hormel is the ambassador, right.

O'BRIEN: He's the diplomat who wanted to be ambassador.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: The Jim Hormel confirmation was a big fight but the -- Obama's effort to get Chuck Hagel confirmed is going to be a big fight. A lot of people are lining up on both sides. I think that on the issue of gay rights Hagel has a lot of -- a lot to prove, but I think he can do it. I mean I think everybody, in order for this movement for greater equality to be successful, it has been dependent upon people changing their minds. And I think if Hagel has really changed his mind, he can show it but he's got to show some leadership on it.

CAIN: We've had the conversation and we've danced around it. It's interesting that President Obama so willingly went into something he knew would be a big fight, as you suggested. What does that say about President Obama? Why is he so interested or so willing to take on all fights and all comers?

O'BRIEN: Maybe he likes Chuck Hagel and thinks he will do the job well.

BERMAN: It's a plausible explanation. Let me say while we have a few seconds left, political journalists and politics in general lost a titan overnight. Richard Van Cramer, who wrote one of the greatest political books of all time, "What It Takes", passed away. Also wrote a number of other great books and wrote for "Rolling Stone" magazine.

He is the reason that a lot of people don't just love politics but loved political journalism and there's no one like him.

O'BRIEN: That's a sad passing. We appreciate you guys joining us morning.

SOCARIDES: Thank you for having us.

O'BRIEN: Always great. Although I love --

CAIN: I was on vacation this last weekend. I know you love having me and glad you got to see me this morning. I was in Colorado this past weekend and I decided I needed to have a back flip competition on a trampoline. This was going to be great. And somebody from the crowd, as I'm strapping into this bungee cord, says "We're sending this video to Soledad."

O'BRIEN: They haven't yet. Please do because if it's terrible we're going to run it.

CAIN: I did it. I got the back flip.

O'BRIEN: And you won.

Tomorrow on STARTING POINT, get your angel wings ready. We're talking with Victoria's Secret model Cameron Russell. Cameron Russell will be joining us. Yes, yes. Look at John Berman. For the first time it's like, "I'm interested."

We have to wrap it up. I'm kidding you.

BERMAN: We had Ben Cardin today!

O'BRIEN: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see everybody back here tomorrow. Good morning Carol.

(Byline: John Berman, Soledad O'Brien, Will Cain, Sanjay Gupta, Dan Simon)

(Guest: Beverly Kearney, Richard Socarides )

(High: A college track and field coach resigns over a relationship with a student. Interview with Beverly Kearney. Don Wright used his cancer diagnosis as a challenge; what he decided to do was that he would continue to run marathons in spite of his diagnosis and then decided he would run a marathon in each and every state. It's that time of the year where the tech companies show off their slickest, edgiest, most innovative gadgets, the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas kicks off today.)

(Spec: Sports; Crime; Beverly Kearney; Astronautics and Space; Cancer; Lifestyle; Technology )

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