Court revives lawsuit for ex-student who sued to play football

Updated: March 19, 2008, 7:30 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Jonathan Parker is 38 and hasn't been a student for several years, but he is waging a seven-year-old legal fight to play college football for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

Parker was 31 when he sued the university's board of supervisors for age discrimination in 2001, claiming the school told him he was too old to play football for the Ragin' Cajuns.

U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon tossed Parker's case last year, but an appeals court revived it Tuesday on technical grounds.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans questioned whether Melancon had legal jurisdiction over Parker's case when he dismissed it. The appeals court sent it back to Melancon to address that question.

Parker, who is representing himself in the case, said he has pursued the case out of principle even though his gridiron dreams were fading.

"They're small-minded," he said of ULL officials. "They didn't give me a chance to show what I could do."

ULL spokeswoman Julie Simon-Dronet referred questions about the suit to a lawyer for the school system. She said she couldn't comment on Parker's allegations because his case is against the school system and ULL.

Patrick McIntire, a lawyer for the school system, said Parker's lawsuits already have been dismissed from state and federal courts.

"And we expect that this suit also will be dismissed," he added.

After Parker filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, ULL agreed to allow him to try out for the team and subject him to the same NCAA eligibility requirements as any other student athlete.

However, Parker said he passed up two offers to try out for the team, in part because he was out of shape and couldn't give "100 percent effort."

"This was in hindsight," he said of the tryout offers. "This is after the discrimination."

The Office for Civil Rights monitored its agreement with ULL before it was "fully implemented" and closed the case in July 2004, according to Department of Education spokesman David Thomas.

Parker said he was a running back for his San Antonio high school's football team, then served in the Army from 1992 to 2001 before enrolling in ULL to study industrial technology. He said he took classes during three semesters between 2001 and 2004.

Parker's lawsuit seeks $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages. He claims ULL's alleged discrimination cost him a chance to play in the NFL, which he mistakenly referred to as the "National Football Association" in his suit.

"I just wanted to play football," Parker said. "I was still in good shape."

Parker, who lives in Breaux Bridge, said he serves as a preacher at a Lafayette church and isn't sure if he wants to play college football anymore.

"My first priority is ministry," he said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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