IOWA CITY (AP) — Several former University of Iowa women's field hockey players alleged they were pressured to play injured and sought therapy due to mistreatment by Coach Tracey Griesbaum, according to a confidential report that prompted Griesbaum's firing.
Griesbaum provided the Associated Press on Wednesday the university's Aug. 1 summary of its investigation, calling the allegations false and saying she was proud of her 15 years leading a successful program. She said she was the victim of double standards in which complaints by female players are enabled and female coaches are treated more harshly than male coaches.
The investigation, ordered by athletic director Gary Barta after a former player's parent complained, didn't find any policy violations but raised concerns about the relationship between some players and Griesbaum. Barta fired Griesbaum after receiving the report, which the university had previously refused to release by claiming it is a confidential personnel record.
"It is very concerning that several (student athletes) consistently described a team environment of fear, intimidation and/or mistreatment by Coach Griesbaum and that several indicated they felt pressured to play injured," investigators wrote.
Some athletes alleged that Griesbaum believed their injuries were "not physical but mental and that they were using their injury as an excuse or were perceived as lazy." In an interview Wednesday, Griesbaum said "none of that is true."
Griesbaum's firing stunned the tight-knit field hockey community. She said she made the allegations against her public so she could defend herself after the university rejected requests to reinstate her or investigate whether her termination was unfair. She's planning legal action against the university, alleging she faced discrimination as a gay female coach.
"I have to stand up for myself and to what's happening in the athletic department," Griesbaum said.
Griesbaum, 48, said that she was conservative in her approach to injuries, denying she pressured anyone to play hurt. Longtime team trainer Faye Thompson has also disputed that allegation, resigning to protest Griesbaum's firing. Griesbaum said she was aware some players sought therapy, but she didn't see that as a negative.
She said the allegations came from players who struggled for reasons including homesickness and lack of playing time. Most of the 20 players come from far outside of Iowa, which doesn't offer field hockey in high school.
"They go from high school where they are the star and they come to Iowa and they are not," she said. "A lot of it is they are disgruntled. They ultimately wanted more."
Griesbaum also released a July memo in which Barta indicated he planned to retain her as coach after investigators briefed him on their findings. He wrote the program must make changes to "eliminate the pattern of allegations, misconceptions, miscommunications" but that he looked forward to making improvements.
Weeks later, Barta fired Griesbaum and named longtime assistant Lisa Cellucci as interim coach. The school defends the firing, noting Griesbaum was an at-will employee and received a contractually-required $200,000 buyout.
Current players have steadfastly supported Griesbaum, telling investigators the program was "intense and highly competitive" and that they hadn't witnessed mistreatment. The Hawkeyes, ranked 14th after beating No. 4 Penn State, finish the regular season Saturday against No. 2 Maryland.
Investigators interviewed 40 players, administrators, parents and professors. Several former players described a "fear-based" climate in which they worried about having scholarships cut, losing playing time or being singled out during team events, the report said.
Several — the report doesn't define that term — said they wished they'd ended up never playing at Iowa. "I came to Iowa thinking it would be my haven and it quickly turned into my hell," one said.
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