Rutgers softball coaches are accused of committing physical, emotional abuse on players
Rutgers softball head coach Kristen Butler and volunteer assistant coach Marcus Smith are being accused by seven former players and five parents of physically and emotionally abusing members of the softball team, according to an article from NJ Advance Media.
The alleged abuse, which took place in the 2018-19 season, included extreme conditioning exercises, intentionally hitting players with pitches, insensitive verbal remarks, invading players’ privacy by monitoring cell phone usage, pressuring players whom the coaches viewed as not good enough to quit the team and potentially violating a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rule by threatening to revoke players’ scholarships as retribution, according to the article.
The players and parents also told NJ Advance Media that Rutgers Athletics Director Pat Hobbs and Deputy Director of Athletics Sarah Baumgartner did not adequately investigate the numerous complaints made against the coaches.
Hobbs, Baumgartner and Butler told NJ Advance Media that they deny all allegations against both coaches and the Athletics department. Butler said the softball team’s success in the past season was evidence that her coaching was effective.
Erin Collins, a former Rutgers softball player, lost her scholarship after quitting the team due to Butler’s behavior. She has since transferred to the University of Tennessee and is seeking damages from Rutgers for lost financial aid and medical bills. The legal notice included allegations from six other former players, according to the article.
Butler was hired by Rutgers Athletics in June 2018 after previously coaching at the University of Toledo. Smith, her husband, coached at multiple schools, most recently Owens Community College in Ohio, according to the article.
The players were originally excited to work with the new coach, but soon struggled to keep up with Butler’s preseason conditioning drills. Players reported frequently collapsing, crying, vomiting or passing out, according to the article.
Players who struggled to complete the conditioning exercises were subjected to further abuse from Butler. An anonymous parent told NJ Advance Media that their daughter was verbally abused after passing out during an exercise in September 2018.
“Butler was standing over top of her screaming at the top of her lungs to get up,” the parent said in the article.
During an exercise where players had to run up the stadium stairs inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on the Livingston campus, one player considered intentionally injuring herself to end the conditioning, according to the article. She said that players who passed out would just be forced to get back up and continue, and described the practice as “demoralizing.”
Players allege that the abuse took place throughout the season. Six players reported an incident where assistant coach Brandon Duncan would purposely hit them with pitches. If players avoided being hit, they were subjected to more conditioning, according to the article.
Myah Moy, a sophomore who formerly played on the team, told NJ Advance Media that she had a knee injury but was still expected to participate in the pitching exercise.
“I got punished a couple of times and I got hit,” Moy said in the article. “I got in trouble for moving out of the way because I didn’t want my knee to get hit."
Collins and other anonymous players told NJ Advance Media that they were scared to make mistakes or speak out against the exercises because they could result in the entire team being subjected to further punishment.
The article stated that players were frequently made uncomfortable by Smith’s comments. He allegedly made inappropriate remarks about a Native American player, tried guessing each player’s sexuality and once told the team that their bus smelled like “period blood.”
Smith regularly confiscated players' phones and looked through their texts or notifications, according to allegations by both players and parents. Moy claims she once witnessed Smith scrolling through her phone without her permission. When players filed complaints through the Rutgers compliance office, Butler said they were lying, according to the article.
NJ Advance Media obtained documents from Owens Community College that stated that Smith was previously suspended from coaching for inappropriate conduct. He was accused of intimidating players, revealing their confidential medical information and commenting on their sexuality.
An investigation found that the complaints did not amount to a policy violation, which Rutgers said it was made aware of when it conducted an initial background check, according to the article.
NJ Advance Media spoke to parents of former Owens Community College softball players, who disagreed with the school’s findings, and said that Smith’s actions pushed their daughters to quit the team.
Other allegations include Butler possibly violating NCAA rules by trying to take away players’ scholarships. Both the NCAA and the Big Ten stated that athletic scholarships should not be revoked due to illness or injury as long as the player remains in good standing with the University, according to the article
Moy told NJ Advance Media that prior to her knee surgery, Butler told her that she no longer wanted her on the team. Butler tried making Moy sign transfer papers, which she refused, but Moy said she received a notice that her scholarship was canceled anyway, according to the article. An anonymous player also reported a similar situation.
Tim Nevius, a former NCAA investigator who serves as the executive director of the College Athlete Advocacy Initiative, told NJ Advance Media that coaches or schools sometimes try to find loopholes to end scholarship commitments.
“It’s particularly troubling when an athlete is injured because the legislation is intended to protect against a scholarship termination as a result of injury,” Nevius said in the article.
Butler denied the allegations and told NJ Advance Media that she does not have the authority to take away scholarships by herself.
Moy was able to appeal her decision and keep her scholarship. Collins, who quit the team due to Butler, also made an appeal to keep her scholarship money but was denied, according to the article.
After Butler’s first season as head coach, 10 players have left the Rutgers softball team, including Collins and Moy. Both expressed their dissatisfaction with the Rutgers Athletics' handling of the situation.
The article stated that Butler is currently conducting fall workouts for the 2020 softball season, but the players who made the allegations against her remain skeptical of her coaching tactics.
“The things we endured this season made us miserable,” an anonymous student said in the article. “There is a fine line between making us stronger mentally and physically and pushing us to breaking points.”
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