Three members of the Clemson women’s soccer coaching staff as well as 14 former players and several school officials are under fire for their roles in an alleged hazing incident involving former defender Haley Hunt. The lawsuit was filed on August 15 but was picked up by FITS News yesterday.
It comes on the heels of a University of New Mexico hazing incident that saw head coach Kit Vela and 22 players suspended for one match after two freshman were hospitalized.
The lawsuit lists head coach Eddie Radwanski, associate head coach Jeff Robbins, assistant coach—and former U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper—Siri Mullinix, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff Marvin Carmichael, former Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips, and Associate Athletic Director (and Sport Supervisor for women’s soccer) Kyle Young as defendants as well as unnamed school officials.
The lawsuit accuses Radwanski, Mullinix and Robbins of planning the incident that occurred August 18, 2011 and the former players of carrying it out.
Hunt played four years of varsity soccer at Aiken (S.C.) High School and was recruited by then-head coach Hershey Strosberg to play at Clemson. Strosberg was fired after his third-straight losing season in November 2010.
According to the lawsuit, Radwanski called Hunt prior to the 2011 season telling her to not come to Clemson and that he would not play her if she did chose to come to Clemson. He told her “he would make her time at Clemson miserable” and that “he knew she was not any good at soccer because she was from South Carolina and that because she was recruited by Strosberg, he had to assume she was going to fail just like Strosberg did as coach.”
In spite of the comments belittling her and her athletic ability, Hunt chose to play for the Tigers anyway. Upon her informing her head coach of her decision to play, Radwanski responded by telling her “not to come begging him to be transferred when he did not give her any playing time” and that “‘in two years when I look at you sitting on the bench and you are crying to me because you are not playing, I’m going to laugh and say, I told you so.’”
Radwanski continued his attempts to force Hunt from the team by insulting the Aiken, South Carolina native during practice.
Hunt’s upperclassman teammates: Maddy Elder, Heather Marik, Brittany Beaumont, Tabitha Padgett, Maggie Murphy, Lauren Arnold, Erica Kim, Emily Tatum, Deanna Sherry, Vanessa Laxgang, Ashlynne Bassm Jessica Stephens, Hailey Karg and Morgan Hert all met with the coaching staff to plan the freshman hazing ritual, which was an activity that was deemed mandatory by the coaching staff. The freshmen were kidnapped and blindfolded; forced to perform “demeaning” and “embarrassing” acts before being driven to the team’s soccer facilty in the middle of the night.
Hunt was purposefully spun repeatedly until becoming dizzy and disoriented before being told to sprint across the field while still being blindfolded. She was commanded by her teammates to run faster and Hunt complied. She ran parallel to the field “and sprinted directly—face first—into a brick wall.”
The following is directly from the lawsuit describing what happened after the alleged incident occurred:
The momentum of Ms. Hunt’s collision with the brick wall threw her body backwards, causing her to smash into a nearby table and fall to the ground. The players heard Ms. Hunt scream and observed her clench her bloody face. One player described the sound of Ms. Hunt hitting the brick wall as “metal hitting metal.” The impact with the brick wall caused Ms. Hunt to sustain serious injrueis to her brain, head, face, and hands. Ms. Hunt was knocked unconscious and had to be physically assisted by the other players.
A few players took Ms. Hunt to the locker room, where they called the Clemson Coach Defendants [Radwanski, Mullinix and Robbins]. Mullinix arrived on the scene and called Michelle Bensmen, an athletic trainer for the Team. Some of the players expressed their opinions that an ambulance was necessary; however, Mullinix instructed them not to tell anyone what had happened.
Ms. Hunt was not taken to a hospital. Instead, she was examined by Bensman, who applied a butterfly bandage to her face and sent her to her dorm room without medical attention or any supervision from the Team staff.
Hunt received supervision after a phone call to her parents led to them calling the coaching staff and asking that someone check on their daughter. She received treatment the following day—after being knocked unconscious the previous night—by the team doctors, a neurologist and a plastic surgeon.
The coaching staff called a meeting following the night of the alleged incident and told the players “if you care about our jobs and our Team, then you will not tell anyone about this. We cannot have anybody finding out about this.”
The athletic department conducted an investigation that led to Young telling the team to handle their hazing ritual in a “better way.”
The Clemson Office of Community & Ethical Standards did a second investigation and after interviews with players and team staff placed the women’s soccer team on disciplinary probation and required the athletes to attend a hazing workshop. The players had to make a PowerPoint presentation to present twice during the spring 2012 semester.
Hunt suffers from persistent headaches and her vision is damaged permanently. Her symptoms worsened and after seeing a concussion specialist in November 2013, she was told to stop playing soccer permanently.
Clemson responded to requests to comment on The Equalizer this morning:
“Clemson University strongly disagrees with the characterization of events in this lawsuit, and looks forward to vigorously defending this case on its facts, rather than these allegations. The university will not comment further on this pending litigation.”
The lawsuit above presents Haley Hunt’s side of what happened during her time at Clemson and if true, is deplorable behavior from those who were involved.
It raises questions about the team dynamics between coaches and players and, perhaps more importantly, the lengths that a coaching staff and school officials will go to cover up an incident.
How could a medical professional send an athlete to her room without medical supervision after a serious head injury?
This is something that stood out after getting through what Radwanski allegedly said to Hunt and after the incident itself. An athletic trainer was called to treat Hunt in the locker room. An ambulance was not called for an athlete that was knocked unconscious. The athlete was not taken to a hospital for further testing. It is not indicated if she was tested for a concussion.
The Clemson concussion protocol from injury to play is the following:
When a student athlete exhibits signs, symptoms, or behavior consistent with a possible concussion, they shall be removed from practice or competition and evaluated by the Certified Athletic Trainer and/or the Team Physician. The student athlete will be evaluated and monitored for a minimum of 15 minutes to determine their status as it relates to being concussed. Once an athlete has been diagnosed with having a concussion, they shall be removed from physical activity for the remainder of that day. The athlete or their caregiver will be provided instructions on further care.
The signs/symptoms of a concussion that are listed in the Clemson guidelines include the following: headache, loss of consciousness, concentration of memory problems, confusion, balance problems, dizziness and double or fuzzy vision.
Athletic trainer Michelle Bensman applied a bandage to Hunt’s face and sent her on her way. With the discussions that have surrounded collegiate and professional sports regarding head injuries in recent years, it is incredibly difficult to believe that Bensman—who is not named in Hunt’s suit—thought that it was OK to send an athlete to sleep, unsupervised, after a head injury.
Perhaps, because this incident did not occur within an athletic contest (though still within her capacity as a student-athlete) the concussion/traumatic brain injury protocol differs. Perhaps it was the result of the seemingly collective want to keep the incident quiet.
How could the coaches condone the behavior—even going as far as telling the upperclassman involved what to do—and still be more worried about their jobs than an athlete’s safety?
The fact that Radwanski, Mullinix and Robbins helped to plan the incident and provided access to the team facilities is an issue on its own. The coaching staff (should) know the policy towards hazing. Tradition or not, there are ways to “initiate” new members of a group without having the potential to cause bodily harm. How coaches – Mullinix and Radwanski in particular – could tell their team not to breathe a word of the incident for fear of what it would do to the team or their jobs is something that is terrifying for any parent about to send a child to participate in college athletics.
How there was no disciplinary action handed out by the athletic department?
Former Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips and Associate Athletic Director and Women’s Soccer Supervisor Kyle Young concluded that there would be no disciplinary action. By telling the team to simply find a “better way” to initiate the freshman athletes, he was telling them that the base of what the team was doing—hazing—was okay as long as there was a better way to do it.
The hazing policy at Clemson University is the following, according to the Student-Athlete Handbook:
Hazing is not tolerated at Clemson, and by extension, in the Athletic Department. Student-athletes who have concerns/questions are encouraged to speak out. … The student-athlete can be assured that their safety is of paramount importance, and their report will be handled appropriately.
Was Haley Hunt’s report handled appropriately? No. Did the University show that her safety was “of paramount importance” during its investigation? Not particularly.
Twelve of the 14 former teammates named in the lawsuit finished their soccer careers as recently as the 2013 season. Hunt redshirted the 2011 season, played in 15 matches the following year and then logged just 65 minutes across two matches in 2013. Her last match played was September 22, 2013. She has suffered decreased cognitive function. In the weeks following the initial incident, Hunt suffered from headaches and difficulties in concentration and reading.
What questions did this issue raise for you? If the allegations are true, what action should be taken against the parties involved? Sound off in the comments below.