Exclusive: San Jose State swim coach and whistleblower speaks for first time about sex abuse scandal

Exclusive: San Jose State swim coach and whistleblower speaks for first time about sex abuse scandal

SAN JOSE — San Jose State Swim Coach Sage Hopkins remembers the very worst day of his career. It was a spring afternoon in 2010. He gathered his women athletes next to the pool and broke the news:

The athletic trainer that the swimmers had accused of sexually abusing them during physical therapy sessions, he told them, had been cleared by the university.

“There was outrage, disbelief, tears, and fear,” said Hopkins, “the fear of just what could happen next, what possibly could happen next.”

Speaking publicly for the first time, the coach and whistleblower on Saturday described the personal toll of his decade-long fight to protect female athletes from trainer Scott Shaw, the resistance he encountered from university officials nearly every step of the way, and the relief he felt when the U.S. Department of Justice this week commended his tireless efforts and excoriated the university for largely ignoring them for so long.

“This isn’t about me,” said Hopkins, a two-time conference coach of the year, standing poolside after the team’s first meet of the season. “This is about the dozens of survivors of Scott Shaw and having the right thing done for them.”

It took 11 years.

During that time more victims came forward, one as recently as February 2020. The Department of Justice said in its report that there are “potentially many more.” Shaw, who has declined to talk to the media and is under criminal investigation by the FBI, resigned in August 2020.

On Saturday, just days after the federal report was released, Hopkins agreed to speak about the abuse and the investigation. As his team competed against University of Nevada, Reno at the Spartans’ new aquatics complex on campus, Hopkins stood in his blue ball cap and shorts and, with a stopwatch in hand, cheered them on to the finish.

Although this crop of swimmers had never been treated by Shaw — the swim coach wouldn’t allow that — they understood the magnitude of what Hopkins had done for the athletes that came before them.

“He was one of the only adults who stood up for us when there were a lot of other adults that should have been standing up as well, but were not — and enabled this to happen,” said Shelby Mullendore, a 21-year-old senior swimmer.

The coach was the first to bring the accusations from his swimmers to campus officials in 2009, back when former school President Jon Whitmore and athletic director Tom Bowen were in charge. More than a dozen had complained that Shaw, an athletic trainer on campus since 2008, massaged them under their bras and underwear without justification and made them feel uncomfortable.

An investigation conducted by a human resources officer on campus cleared Shaw, saying that his “pressure point therapy” was legitimate — a finding that led to the emotional poolside meeting.

“How could something be gotten so wrong?” Hopkins said the young athletes asked him.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 25: San Jose State swim coach Sage Hopkins speaks publicly for the first time, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, about the toll of his decade-long fight to protect female athletes from an athletic trainer who sexually abused them. Saturday’s meet at the Aquatics Center in San Jose, Calif., was the team’s first since February 2020. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“The gaslighting that went on,” suggesting that the abused swimmers weren’t really abused, he said, “was truly hard to watch.”

The first investigation and its conclusion were largely kept quiet by campus leaders and Shaw continued treating female athletes “unfettered” — as the Department of Justice put it — for the next decade. Although the trainer had been told to stay away from the swim team, as Hopkins had demanded, he treated some of the athletes, along with the women’s golf team and others.

Year after year, Hopkins admonished his swimmers to avoid Shaw. And year after year, he documented his emailed pleas to former Athletic Director Marie Tuite and others, asking them to do something about Shaw, to no avail.

In 2018, Hopkins submitted a nearly 300-page dossier of those emails and other documents to the campus Title IX office. When it disappeared from the office in 2019 — a mystery that remains unsolved — he sent a copy to the National Collegiate Athletics Association and other outside groups. “Only then,” the federal report said, did the university then under the leadership of President Mary Papazian reopen the investigation. Papazian had taken over the school in 2016.

The new investigation reversed the outcome of the first, concluding that Shaw’s pressure point therapy was bogus and that he had, indeed, sexually abused 10 female athletes. But even that investigation was pilloried by the Department of Justice, especially when it was revealed that Shaw continued to treat female athletes while the second investigation was underway, despite yet another admonition not to do so.

The federal report also supported Hopkins’ claims, made in a lawsuit against the university, that campus officials, especially Tuite from the athletic department, retaliated against him for his outspoken efforts.

“Thankfully, people such as the DOJ, the FBI and some other investigative agencies jumped into the matter and properly looked into it,” Hopkins said.  “It’s a very good first step in the healing of dozens of survivors.”

The toll, however, has been “profound,” Hopkins said Saturday, “on myself, on my family, on many others.” He said he had not yet received the written apology from SJSU that was mandated as part of the settlement.

Members of his team said that as much as Hopkins tried to hide the strain, they could see it.

“He went to practice and was being as positive as he could, even though I knew he was struggling,” Mullendore, the senior, said. “He’s a father figure and made sure to look out for us.”

Alice Ciobanu, a 19-year-old sophomore swimmer, agreed.

“He always has your best interests at heart,” she said. “I trust him with everything.”

The Spartans lost their first meet Saturday against a formidable team, but Hopkins told the swimmers he was proud of them.

“That was an awesome start to the season,” he said, “a really, really awesome start.”

As the swimmers left, there was one more thing.

“Now it’s a matter of accountability,” Hopkins said. “There were people entrusted with safeguarding our campus and nearly every decision they made, if not every decision they made, was wrong.”

Source link

Hi, my name is Ankita Dixit. I started writing from young age and most of my writing skills and knowledge are self taught. Currently, I am working as a professional writer at Paisa.co. I have write on various topics including travel, motivation, finance, technology, credit cards, insurance and entrepreneurship etc.