Ole Miss football player sues Kiffin, university for $40 million over “mental health break”

Published 12:28 am Friday, September 15, 2023

OXFORD — An Ole Miss football player has filed a federal lawsuit against the university and head coach Lane Kiffin, claiming that Kiffin discriminated against him for requesting and taking a mental health break from the team.

DeSanto Rollins, a junior defensive tackle from Baton Rouge, La., also claimed in the lawsuit that Kiffin discriminated against him based on race, sex and disability, and created a “hostile educational environment.”

Rollins is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages, and $30 million from Kiffin specifically for punitive damages.

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Rollins is also seeking an injunction that would reinstate him to the Ole Miss football team on the defensive line and require the coach and university to provide educational material on mental health to all athletes.

DeSanto Rollins

Rollins is currently listed on Ole Miss’ football roster. He played in three games over the past two seasons, but has not appeared in the Rebels’ first two games in 2023.

“We have not received a lawsuit,” the school said Friday through spokesman Kyle Campbell. “DeSanto was never removed from the football team and remains on scholarship. 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.”

Rollins signed with Ole Miss in 2020 and joined the team that June. According to the lawsuit, he suffered a concussion in the spring game in April 2022 and neither the coaching staff, trainers or team physicians referred him for a mental health evaluation.

Later that summer, Rollins injured his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout. He was cleared for practice a few weeks later, but suffered a knee injury during another workout.

The injuries, the lawsuit alleges, caused Rollins to “suffer severe depression, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, humiliation, a loss of sleep and a loss of appetite that substantially limited his ability to perform major life activities of walking, jumping, standing for long periods of time, standing on his toes, climbing, eating and sleeping.”

Rollins says in the lawsuit that he was unaware of a need for a mental health evaluation or referral. He also alleges that the coaching staff and trainers knew or should have known about his condition.

Things came to a head during the 2022-23 offseason. During an exit meeting, Rollins alleges, Ole Miss defensive line coach Randall Joyner strongly suggested that Rollins enter the transfer portal because his future playing time at Ole Miss would likely be limited.

Rollins said in the lawsuit that he told Joyner that he “felt useless, undervalued, humiliated, embarrased and unworthy,” and that Joyner did not provide Rollins with a mental health referral after the meeting.

On Feb. 27, 2023, Rollins met with Kiffin and the head coach informed Rollins that he was being moved from second team defensive tackle to the offensive line on the scout team.

When Rollins asked if his “reassignment was a choice or command,” the lawsuit says, “Kiffin yelled at Rollins in a hostile and verbally threatening tone telling him that he was the coach and Rollins was the player, and if he didn’t like it then he should quit.”

Rollins then informed Kiffin that he planned to take a mental health break because of Kiffin’s “verbal abuse” and the anxiety and depression he was feeling.

According to the lawsuit, Rollins’ mother told Ole Miss athletic trainer Pat Jernigan about her son’s mental health crisis. Jernigan scheduled an appointment with a psychologist the next day.

During the appointment, Rollins was encouraged to take a step back from football and another appointment was scheduled for March 7.

On March 1, Joyner notified Rollins that Kiffin wanted to meet with him again. Rollins, however, did not immediately reschedule the meeting because “he was not in a good place.” The coaching and training staff continued attempts to set up a second meeting with Rollins, which finally took place on March 21.

During that meeting, the lawsuit alleges, Kifin “verbally assaulted” Rollins “knowing that Rollins was suffering mental and emotional anxiety, distress and depression.”

A transcript of their meeting is included in the lawsuit. In it, Kiffin uses profane language while berating Rollins for delaying the meeting, not attending workouts, and not staying in contact with the coaching staff.
When Rollins explained that he “took a mental break,” Kiffin responded angrily.

“OK. He Keith Carter I’m not going to show up to work the next two weeks, oh you want to meet with me, no, I’m not going to meet with you. Fired!” Kiffin is quoted as saying, as he slammed down a phone.

When Rollins suggested that Kiffin did not believe his issues were real, Kiffin tried to explain his frustration.

“I didn’t say they are not real,” Kiffin is quoted as saying. “You show up when your boss wants to meet with you, and I mean it wouldn’t have been like this. It would’ve been like OK, if you would’ve come here, when you kept getting messages the head coach wants to talk to you say I’m not ready to talk to him.”

Kiffin eventually informed Rollins that he could be kicked off the team for not showing up for workouts and meetings. Rollins counters in the lawsuit that he was dismissed because he requested a mental health break to deal with his anxiety, depression and mental stress.”

Rollins also alleges racial and sexual discrimination on grounds that Kiffin had not taken similar action against white student-athletes, and that white female athletes on other Ole Miss teams had not been subject to similar actions when they requested mental health breaks.

Rollins’ disability discrimination claims arise from his mental health issues qualifying as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Rollins also accuses Kiffin of intentional infliction of emotional distress, stemming from their two meetings in February and March.

Read the full text of the lawsuit here

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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