In the previous post we reported that the U.S. Department of Education is investigating the University of Utah in the Greg Winslow scandals.
Below is a report just released by Matt Fiascone — father of the former Winslow swimmer, Austin Fiascone, who helped blow this story open — on the university’s own painfully slow and inadequate “independent investigation.”
PERVASIVE DISREGARD FOR STUDENT-ATHLETE WELFARE
Report of Findings
Investigation of University of Utah Athletics Department/Swim Team
On March 11, 2013, University of Utah President Pershing announced an investigation into the conduct of former University of Utah swim coach Greg Winslow. Two weeks later the University Board of Trustees reconstituted the investigation under their auspices and added a third investigator to the team with the stated objectives of determining “what took place, what was communicated to the university and how it responded.” Further they publicly announced, “we are also seeking recommendations from the review group to ensure the continued safety and well-being of our student-athletes.”
I remain in contact with several other families of athletes who were coached and victimized by Winslow.
Without violating any confidences, I can confirm that the investigators engaged by the University are refusing to agree to interview terms put forth by the attorneys for some of the victims. What these attorneys seek is protection that should be afforded them if the University is sincere in trying to ascertain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The inflexible position taken by the investigators on behalf of the University follows significant delays in making contact with some victims. In turn, those delays have been followed by threats by the investigators to conclude their process without interviewing some key people.
What I see emerging is a report that is far less than the whole truth. Again, being certain not to violate a confidence, there is some very damaging information in the hands of some of these families. It should also be in the University’s files, but I’m guessing it’s not.
In an effort to further refine the scope of the investigation’s focus, this report summarizes the findings of my communications with many victims and their families. The incidents here span the entirety of Winslow’s time at Utah. The majority of the people I have received information from were unknown to me prior to Winslow’s dismissal in February.
The most disturbing aspects of the diverse families’ reports are their similarity, extended time frame, and voluminous and specific documentation. They show that, at a minimum, the following people within the University’s Athletic Department had detailed knowledge of Winslow’s misconduct for more than five years:
Further, these people, entrusted with the safety and welfare of student-athletes, repeatedly assured victims that action would be taken, while also making each victim believe he or she was either alone in voicing concerns, or part of a very small group that simply didn’t like the coach. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mary Bowman and Peter Oliszczak are documented to have been in a meeting in October 2007 where they were advised of dangerous training techniques that caused one athlete to be taken to the hospital.
This meeting was followed by retaliation by Winslow against this athlete to the point of causing the athlete to quit the team. Chris Hill was advised of the circumstances in writing in February of 2008 and responded (also in writing) in March stating that he had looked in to the situation and concluded that it was handled appropriately by Winslow and others involved. He went on to suggest that if the victim had a continued grievance they could avail themselves of the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity.
Inasmuch as October 2007 was the first official month of Winslow’s first season, some justification for the position might seem defensible. However, these actions and the University’s response became almost a script that they would dust off the shelf repeatedly over the next five plus years.
Also during this time, Kate Charipar took an unusual interest in the swim program. Publicly it was described as someone from the Compliance Department observing the program and the coach.
Swimmers on the team described her relationship with Winslow as overly friendly. Some even mistakenly thought Winslow and Charipar were married until they were told otherwise. Ms. Charipar was in a position where she was privy to confidential information from the student-athletes and should never have put herself in a position where her relationship with a coach could be misconstrued by anyone, especially a student-athlete. Again, while this, in isolation, could be dismissed as a one-time occurrence early in Winslow’s Utah career, indiscrete handling of the professional relationship between administrators like Charipar and Winslow would become a repeating theme.
The 2008-2009 season (Winslow’s second) should have clearly been his last had reasonable judgment prevailed. During this season, with the documented knowledge of Mary Bowman, Peter Oliszczak, Keith Henschen and Chris Hill, dangerous training methods continued, resulting in at least one more athlete requiring emergency medical attention. Also numerous questions about sexual improprieties involving Winslow and female athletes and at least one coach (who was a subordinate under employment law and a former athlete) began surfacing. Several female athletes requested and were
granted releases after communicating their issues and concerns with Winslow to Athletic Department administrators. Included in this group is the female athlete whose charges are pending possible criminal prosecution of Winslow in Arizona.
In addition to written correspondence and notes from telephone conversations, the releases of athletes recruited by Winslow should have sounded an alarm—and possibly it did but was silenced by someone at a high level of authority in the Athletic Department. For Hill and the University to disavow suspicions or knowledge of Winslow’s sexual improprieties at the time they became public in February 2013 is at best an inaccurate portrayal of the facts. Also during 2008, corroborated reports of alcohol abuse began. Frequent phone calls at inappropriate times were made by Winslow to athletes, during which he was clearly intoxicated. There is also at least one documented instance of Winslow buying an underage female athlete alcohol for her consumption. The alcohol issues continued throughout the remainder of Winslow’s tenure — including two suspensions by the University for him to seek treatment.
During this time, Bowman, Oliszczak and Hill are all documented to have acknowledged to more than one victim that changes needed to be made in Winslow’s behavior. Several swimmers became patients, at University expense, of Dr. Keith Henschen to seek counseling. These swimmers related eerily similar stories that they personally conveyed to Henschen. The pipeline of swimmers seeing Henschen in an effort to cope with Winslow is seemingly endless over the following years. The question remains whether Henschen ever reported his findings to the Athletic Department, which would seem like the appropriate action given the number of similar stories he heard about Winslow.
Unquestionably, this could have been accomplished without violating patient/doctor confidentiality, given the number of swimmers Henschen was counseling. If Henschen did not report these actions, it would be perhaps the only example of privacy being preserved in the course of the Winslow story.
There are multiple reports of swimmers being verbally and physically singled out by Winslow immediately following the swimmers and/or their families going to the Athletic Department to express their complaints. This retaliation extends beyond the student-athletes to the staff who also report Winslow “punishing” them after they had gone to Peter Oliszczak to report the atrocities they had witnessed. The most blatant example of this was the physical assault of one assistant coach who had been discussing such issues with Oliszczak. The evidence shows, however, that athletes were routinely
berated in front of the team, and they and the team put through more difficult workouts in retaliation for reporting concerns to compliance or the Athletic Department.
Once Winslow was retained after the 2008-09 season, the pattern of the Athletic Department enabling his behavior by a lack of consequences was established and Winslow began to run roughshod over his athletes. Athletes convey virtually identical accounts of frequent drunken phone calls from Winslow, threats about their future scholarships or travel with the team, grotesque exercises where female genitalia are exposed as Winslow leered and more examples of dangerous training methods (mesh bags over swimmers’ heads and the now well known PVC pipe being two examples).
At this point, virtually the entire team was comprised of athletes Winslow recruited — presumably people he wants on the team. Without question, the team captains would represent team members that a coach should expect to keep. Yet the turnover of athletes (including more than one captain), either voluntarily or at Winslow’s initiative, is astounding. Again, even without the hundreds of pages of correspondence and documentation, shouldn’t the number of students leaving have been a signal that
something was not right? When combined with two years of frequent issues, at least one of the Athletic Department administrators must have considered making a change.
In almost uninterrupted succession, the ensuing seasons saw the following events, all documented to have been reported to at least one of the above listed administrators:
-Life threatening training methods.
-Inappropriate relationships with female athletes ranging from having them babysit his children to rumored sexual relationships.
-Threats of consequences to athletes should any of them go to compliance.
-Drunken phone calls including requests for parents to make large donations, foul language and inappropriate topics.
-Attending practices while visibly inebriated.
-Anger outbursts at team.
-The Martin Luther King Day PVC incident.
While not specifically in a category of what was then routine Winslow behavior, the Notre Dame road trip illustrates how poor Winslow’s judgment was, how emboldened he had become by the lack of consequences and how the inaction by the University had played out with the athletes. In November 2010, the swim team scheduled a meet against Notre Dame to coincide with the Utah-Notre Dame football game. The team arrived on Thursday for a Friday afternoon meet. On Thursday, in keeping with customary practice, both the men’s and women’s teams were housed in a local hotel subject to a curfew/bed check. On Friday, the men’s team was advised that they were going to stay with members of the Notre Dame men’s team on the night after the meet instead of staying in the hotel again as the women’s team (and the entire coaching staff) would. I don’t think it takes a high level of mature judgment to know that letting 18-22 year old college men stay in dorms with people they had never met before and without any possible supervision is a bad idea. It also displays total disregard for the responsibility most parents would expect to be taken by a coach of young adults. In hindsight, there was no reason Winslow should have been expected to take responsibility. Every single time he had previously shown poor judgment resulted in little to no consequence to him and, in fact, most of the accusers had been made publicly to look like the problem; not a victim. The end result was predictable: four athletes involved in a dorm party gone bad had to be taken back to Salt Lake by Winslow separately from the rest of the team and one other was arrested and bailed out by an assistant coach and teammates early the following morning.
Yet Winslow survived this episode, too. With each example of misconduct not leading to visible consequences, the fear of the athletes and staff who depend on scholarships or jobs doled out by Winslow grew. At the end of Winslow’s penultimate season (2011-12), Oliszczak and Hill spoke with various swimmers and parents to get input on Winslow’s performance. Why they would need to seek this out is another unanswered question. By this time they were completely aware of every incident and behavior detailed in this report. Yet, they requested written reports to bolster their file. It is evident that either Oliszczak and/or Hill made Winslow aware of those athletes/families who had spoken negatively of Winslow as Winslow methodically attacked them verbally in front of the team beginning in the summer of 2012. As more parents became involved, Winslow’s drunken phone calls increased to include conversations with parents where he would attempt to justify his actions or vilify their son or daughter.
When the evidence of impending doom became seemingly insurmountable (and Arizona authorities had contacted the University police about the criminal investigation against Winslow), Chris Hill finally launched an investigation by the Office of Equal Opportunity—something he had thrown out to assuage one victim nearly five years earlier. This was not the first investigation of Winslow, as there is correspondence indicating at least one other internal investigation was done early in Winslow’s era.
But, like all previous efforts, the OEO investigation would conclude that the allegations against Winslow did not warrant disciplinary action.
Among the people interviewed by the OEO were two student athletes who were also interviewed by Arizona authorities (in connection with the sex crime allegations against Winslow) during the team’s winter training trip to the Phoenix area. Even if the Athletic Department was unaware of the Arizona investigation of Winslow (as they claim), there are only three possibilities when it comes to the OEO’s questioning of these two student-athletes:
1) The OEO did not ask if they were aware of any potential sexual misconduct by Winslow;
2) The student-athletes untruthfully did not disclose their Arizona interview; or
3) The OEO did ask and the students did tell but that information was not acted upon.
In addition to Chris Hill, Kyle Brennan was knowledgeable of former swimmers who had advanced specific complaints about Winslow to the Athletic Department. He advised one swimmer that “sometimes you have to give a coach enough rope to hang himself ”, implying that Winslow’s acts over the previous 5 years were still not enough for dismissal or even a serious consequence. Brennan then apparently conveyed his knowledge of accusations to Winslow as Winslow began an extended, almost daily tirade against the then former swimmer to the team. Winslow asserted that the accuser was a liar with a personal vendetta against him even going so far as to declare victory when the OEO’s exculpation was made public and in the face of what he knew then was an ongoing criminal investigation.
This time the culpability for failure to act in the best interests of the student-athletes extended beyond the Athletic Department to the President and Board of Trustees who were all aware of the assertions and either dismissed them or chose not to take recent claims in the historical perspective that was readily available. Greg Winslow was a documented abuser: physical, psychological, substance and sexual. He was afforded protection from consequences that created an environment that was in direct
contradiction to prioritizing student-athlete welfare. If the same standards that were applied to Winslow were applied to any student-athlete at the University, not a single one would have faced discipline.
If Utah’s takeaway from the Rutgers handling of public controversy over abusive coaching behavior was that an extended investigation and decision making process would mute public outcry, then the process of its Winslow investigation has been a success. But if the goal is to provide full truth and reconciliation, and reassert the proper sports and educational values, then Utah continues to fall substantially and disappointingly short of the mark. The Utah taxpayers should know how much this masterful obfuscation is costing. The investigators are flying all over the country for interviews, have been working for more than eight weeks, have additional attorneys working on the investigation and I assume are billing by the hour. Is the preservation of Chris Hill’s and President Pershing’s jobs worth all that? Or maybe their severance agreements are too embarrassing to have to disclose?
The victims, their families and others concerned with the reputation and mission of Utah Athletics all await the report commissioned by the University. Already having spent nearly two months and, I’m sure, tens of thousands of dollars, the report will hopefully explain how Winslow was retained for so long. It should result in widespread changes both in personnel and procedure to put an end to the pervasive disregard for student-athlete welfare that exists today.