'I Belong on That Team' : Cut from the U.S. Soccer Squad, She Says It's Due to Her Sex-Harassment Suit against a Former Coach

Article excerpt

Debbie keller felt jilted on Valentine's Day. Her boyfriend got her a sweet card. He even surprised the sunny 23-year-old with a visit from out of town. But as one of the world's top women soccer players, Keller wanted to be living it up with the U.S. women's national team. They were in San Francisco, enjoying an elegant hotel, signing autographs for young fans. Almost everybody in the soccer world had expected Keller to be there, too. But while the other players basked in the attention, Keller was home in suburban Chicago, having been cut from the team during tryouts in December. "While they're training, I'm here in the snow," she says. "I belong on that team."

The reason she's not on the national team, Keller claims, is because of a sexual-harassment suit she filed last August against her former college coach at the University of North Carolina, Anson Dorrance. While Keller does not claim explicit sexual come-ons, she says he created a "hostile" play environment. Dorrance, who denies Keller's charges, is a legend in women's soccer, having led the UNC Tar Heels to 15 college championships. He is a former coach of the national team as well. Ten of the 26 players chosen for the current team played for Dorrance at UNC, and most of them-including star Mia Hamm-support the coach. That loyalty and the clubbiness of the soccer world, Keller believes, doomed her chances of making the team after she sued Dorrance.

This week, Keller and Williams & Connolly, the powerhouse D.C. law firm she hired, will go one step further, filing for arbitration against U.S. Soccer, the team's organizing federation. She wants another shot at playing in this summer's Women's World Cup, to be played here in the United States, which-for Americans, at least-will be the biggest event in the history of the sport. The $12 million claim in the harassment suit Keller filed with one other former UNC player, Melissa Jennings, is not just an ugly blemish on soccer, but also the highest-profile harassment lawsuit to date in women's sports.

During her years at UNC (1993 to 1997), Keller alleges in the court papers, Dorrance often intruded excessively into her life. He would call her, "monitoring her personal activities.'' She received handwritten notes that she felt crossed the line between supportive father figure and creep. One says, in part, "I put my arm around your shoulders and pulled you close so I could whisper in your ear. …