Real World Repercussions for SEC Head Football Coach

By: Trey Frye

As the college football season begins, the University of Mississippi is making headlines for more than on-field performance and expectations. Ole Miss student athlete, DeSanto Rollins, filed suit against the university and Coach Lane Kiffin in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Oxford Division.[1] The suit alleges racial and sexual discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) violations, and a failure to provide equal protection.[2]

DeSanto is a twenty-one-year-old defensive lineman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.[3] After receiving back-to-back all-state honors in high school, DeSanto spent the last three seasons as a member of the Ole Miss football team.[4] During that time, he received a number of academic honors, played in three games, and set himself up to graduate in December 2023 with a business degree.[5]

Despite these accomplishments, DeSanto’s time in Oxford has been far from ideal. After sustaining a number of injuries, DeSanto, “suffered severe depression, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, humiliation, a loss of sleep, and loss of appetite.”[6] In November 2022, DeSanto claimed the defensive line coach tried to convince him to leave Ole Miss through the transfer portal.[7]  Shortly thereafter, DeSanto’s grandmother passed away.[8] After DeSanto decided not to transfer, Coach Kiffin reportedly moved the redshirt junior from the defensive line to scout team offensive line and told DeSanto to quit if he did not like it.[9] After meeting with Kiffin in February 2023, DeSanto immediately informed the school he needed a mental health break.[10] His mother, Connie Hollins, called the school to inform them DeSanto was suffering a mental health crisis and requested the school counselor speak with him.[11] The school sports psychologist met with DeSanto and informed him that Kiffin wanted to speak with him; however, DeSanto was not ready to speak with the coach.[12] Two weeks after that meeting, Kiffin and DeSanto met, and DeSanto recorded the conversation.[13]

In the recording, Kiffin referred to himself as DeSanto’s boss, implied that DeSanto’s mental health issues were exclusively caused by the position change, told DeSanto he was off the team, and used highly offensive language, including: “I don’t give a f— what your mom says,” “What f—ing world do you live in?,” “It’s called being a p—y,” and “Go read your f—ing rights on mental health.”[14] DeSanto simply responded to these attacks with, “You’re acting like my issues aren’t real” and “I don’t see why you have to be so disrespectful.”[15]

Following that meeting with Kiffin, DeSanto and his attorney mailed a tort claims demand letter in May, which neither the school nor Kiffin responded to.[16] The following month, the entire Ole Miss coaching staff completed 10 hours of training to become Mental Health First Aid certified.[17] Regarding the purpose for the training, the university’s assistant athletics director, Josie Nicholson, admitted, “We don’t do a lot of ‘And if you’re not ok, here’s what to do.’”[18] Nicholson also mentioned they wanted to create a culture that supports mental health.[19]

The district court complaint is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages.[20] The primary basis for the racial and sexual discrimination claims are that the university allowed a white softball player to take a two-week mental health break away from the team, but DeSanto was not provided the same opportunity.[21]

There are five elements a plaintiff must satisfy to succeed on an IIED claim in Mississippi: (1) Defendant acted willfully or wantonly towards plaintiff; (2) Defendant’s acts evoke outrage or revulsion in civilized society; (3) The acts were directed at or intended to cause harm to plaintiff; (4) Plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress as a direct result of the acts; and (5) Such resulting emotional distress was foreseeable from the intentional acts of the defendant.[22] According to the lawsuit, “Kiffin acted willfully, maliciously, recklessly, and wantonly in words and deeds toward [DeSanto].”[23] Additionally, as a result of Kiffin’s actions, DeSanto claims to have, “suffered physical pain and emotional distress.”[24]

The ADA is federal legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.[25] The lawsuit claims that DeSanto was kicked off the team because of his disability, which was a “mental impairment.”[26]

DeSanto has not been with the team since the meeting with Kiffin.[27] DeSanto told ESPN that he loves Ole Miss, “but they don’t love him.”[28] The university responded by saying that DeSanto was not kicked off the team, he remains on scholarship, and he is still listed on the team website.[29]

Regardless of the strength of DeSanto’s claims, Kiffin’s behavior and handling of the situation are cause for concern. College athletics is one of the few places where people in leadership roles seem to get away with dehumanizing behavior. Perhaps the millionaire coach lost his sense of the real world, because his actions were simply unacceptable.

[1] Heather Dinich, Ole Miss’ DeSanto Rollins sues Kiffin, school over ‘crisis’ reaction, ESPN, (Sep. 14, 2023, 09:05 PM),

[2] Id.

[3] Ole Miss Sports,–rollins/4527, (last visited Sep. 28, 2023).

[4] Id.

[5] Doric Same, Ole Miss’ DeSanto Rollins Files $10M Suit vs. Lane Kiffin, School Over Mental Health, Bleacher Report,  (Sep. 14, 2023),; Ole Miss Sports, supra note 3.

[6] Dinich, supra note 1.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Dinich, supra note 1.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Elizabeth Chuck, Ole Miss’ DeSanto Rollins sues coach and school after mental health crisis: ‘It’s definitely been hard’, NBC News, (Sep. 15, 2023, 10:33 AM),

[17] Michael Katz, Ole Miss football coaching staff receives Mental Health First Aid certification, Daily Journal, (Jun. 23, 2023),

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Dinich, supra note 1.

[21] Chuck, supra note 16.

[22] Miss. Prac. Model Jury Instr. Civil § 20:6 (2d ed.)

[23] Dinich, supra note 1.

[24] Id.

[25] Department of Labor, Americans with Disabilities Act,, (last visited Sep. 28, 2023).

[26] Dinich, supra note 1.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Sally Jenkins, Lane Kiffin wants to talk about the ‘real world’? He has no idea., Washington Post, (Sept. 22, 2023, 5:00 AM),