Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) — Coaches from the University of Tennessee defended the athletic department’s culture on Tuesday after former student athletes accused the school of creating a “hostile sexual environment.”
During a joint news conference with 16 head coaches, the head coaches of female teams said their players were “shocked” by the allegations that the school acted with “deliberate indifference in its response to incidents of sexual assault.” They also shared the advice they give their athletes to avoid potential dangers on campus, including avoiding walking alone at night and not putting themselves in a “bad situation.”
“We’re in an environment that’s a safe environment,” female basketball coach Holly Warwick said, adding, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”
A group of six unidentified women filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Feb. 9 alleging that the school violated Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination in education. The plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that the school had a “clearly unreasonable response” to the reports of sexual assault by student athletes, which caused them to endure additional harassment.
Coaches of female teams also described Tuesday the plethora of facilities and opportunities made available to female athletes at the University of Tennessee.
“That’s all because of the wonderful culture that’s created by our administration,” softball coach Karen Weekly said.
No one from the University of Tennessee’s administration spoke in the news conference, including Athletic Director David Hart.
Head basketball coach Rick Barnes said the coaches feel that an unfair picture has been painted of the university’s athletic department.
“We don’t want the stereotype out there that there’s something there that isn’t true,” Barnes said.
Head football coach Butch Jones said the athletic department is full of “great individuals.”
“Everything is about the alleged victims. We feel for them, hurt for them,” he said. “Also, though, it’s not who we are.”
Jones said people were using the lawsuit against the university as a recruiting advantage. “Our competitors are using it against us,” Jones said.
Baseball coach Dave Serrano said he teaches his players “respect.”
“We educate them on respecting others,” he said. “Everyone is treated with respect.”
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was among those cited in the lawsuit for a sexual assault that allegedly happened during his time at the University of Tennessee 20 years ago.
Manning’s trainer, Jamie Naughright, reported the then-student athlete to a sexual assault crisis center in 1996 for allegedly placing his bare bottom and genitalia on her while she examined his foot, according to court documents.
Naughright included the allegations in a 1997 lawsuit against the school. She eventually settled with the university and agreed to leave her job.
Manning denied the assault, according to court records. In his book “Manning: A Father, His Sons and A Football Legacy,” he wrote that Naughright simply caught him “mooning” a fellow athlete, describing the act as “crude … but harmless.”
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