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New Mexico State's Mumme settles lawsuit with former players

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- New Mexico State and coach Hal Mumme
announced a settlement Thursday in a lawsuit brought by four former football players who claimed they endured religious discrimination because they are Muslims.

The case was scheduled to go to trial Monday. Both sides said
they were pleased the settlement was reached before then.

"Our motivation was to put this issue behind us and to avoid a
contentious, prolonged legal battle that would have done little but
continue a distraction to the program," athletics director
McKinley Boston said.

Plaintiffs attorney Joleen Youngers said she was eager to
present her clients' case to a jury but "we would have been
foolish to turn our backs on a reasonable resolution outside the
courtroom."

Former players Mu'Ammar Ali, Jacob Wallace and brothers Anthony
and Vincent Thompson had alleged they were subject to a hostile
environment because of their religion.

Their lawsuit claimed religious discrimination and violations of
the athletes' right to freely exercise their religion. It contended
Mumme instituted a "religious brotherhood" within the team,
singled out Muslim athletes and had players recite the Lord's
Prayer after each practice and before each game.

Wallace, reached by phone Thursday, said the past year has been
stressful.

"It seemed like it would never end, that this thing would
continually go on and on," he said from San Francisco. "I'm glad
with the decision that was made."

Wallace declined to discuss the discrimination claims, saying he
believes they now are irrelevant.

"At this point, I would like to move on with my future, and
hopefully this is something I can put behind me," he said.

The university didn't admit any wrongdoing in the case. Boston
said the settlement reflects that New Mexico State denied any
discrimination occurred.

"In our view, we did nothing wrong," he said.

University president Michael Martin added: "While this puts the
issue to rest, we also maintain the solid integrity and reputation
of our university."

But Youngers said her clients still believe in their claims.

"They would have not brought this lawsuit if they did not
believe they had been discriminated against," she said. "They
haven't changed their view of what occurred, but they have agreed
to resolve the dispute through settlement rather than trial."

Both parties agreed to keep the settlement amount confidential
for six months.

The lawsuit was filed in August by the American Civil Liberties
Union on behalf of Ali and the brothers. Wallace joined the case in
January.

Besides Mumme, the lawsuit named university vice president and
provost William Flores and the school's board of regents as
defendants.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU in New Mexico,
said issues that prompted the lawsuit demonstrate the importance of
keeping government out of religion.

"When one person uses his or her privileged position as a
government official to advertise their specific religious views, it
diminishes religious freedom for all of us, whether we are Muslim,
Christian or of any other denomination," he said.

Mumme said the lawsuit was a distraction. With it now behind
him, he said he can focus on what he was hired to do: "coach
football and help these fine student-athletes have the best
experience possible from their playing days."