Ex-SMU player sues school, coach Travis Mays after allegations of abusive treatment

Dai’Ja Thomas suffered a knee injury in her junior year and said that coach Travis Mays (pictured) pressured her to play through it, along with other abuse allegations. (Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

A former SMU women’s basketball player filed a lawsuit against the university and head coach Travis Mays this week, her attorney said in a statement on Thursday, just weeks after allegations surfaced about an “abusive culture” within Mays’ locker room.

Dai’Ja Thomas — who played for the Mustangs from 2015-18 — alleged in the lawsuit, filed in Dallas County, that Mays and the university “abused and ruined” her career by pressuring her to play through a severe knee injury. She also cited verbal abuse and a comment Mays made to the team during the 2017-18 season when he told them they “might as well go and commit suicide” if they weren’t going to compete.

Thomas alleges that after she told Mays and other staff members about pain in her knee, Mays criticized her for “disrespect” and pressured her to play through it.

“Mays admitted that the pressure was intentional, and told the parent of another player that he hoped Dai’Ja would ‘break down so she moves on,’ ” her attorney said in the release. 

Thomas, per the release, still walks with a limp, is in pain and needs reconstructive knee surgery.

“I was telling them that I was having issues and how my knee would always pop. It would fill up with fluid. They would take fluid out,” Thomas told the Dallas Morning News in January. “[After I graduated] I was still having problems with my knee, it was giving out on me, I could barely walk. Fluid was still building up.”

Specific damages were not requested in the lawsuit. Per the Dallas Morning News, Thomas’ mother said that SMU did not pay for any of her medical treatment after graduation.

“SMU, its doctor and coach Mays created an abusive environment for women’s basketball players where their bodies and their minds were broken down,” her attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel said. “This is sadly another example where performance is more important than the person and athlete behind it. This atmosphere and failure to properly treat injuries is what ultimately cost Dai’Ja Thomas her basketball career and what she felt like for some time ruined her life and dreams.” 

SMU declined to comment to the Dallas Morning News. The school did, however, stand by Mays after the allegations surfaced earlier this month — which included his suicide comment, allegations that he berated players with “verbal teardowns,” called players “disgusting” and “trash” and that he threatened to speak negatively about his players to any future employers.

“Coach Mays has publicly acknowledged that he made mistakes as a first-time head coach,” SMU athletic director Rick Hart said in an internal memo earlier this month. “He has accepted ownership of his missteps, apologized and grown through his experience.”

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