Sports Illustrated report finds “predatory culture” at USF men’s soccer program

Sports Illustrated writers Priya Desai and Jenny Vrentas investigated long-rumored sexual misconduct allegations against University of San Francisco men’s soccer players. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF OFFICE OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS

Earlier today, Sports Illustrated published an in-depth investigation into years of sexual assault allegations against the men’s soccer team and the University’s response to said allegations.

The comprehensive report reveals significant details which were not included in the University’s investigation findings, released back in January 2021 by Hulst & Handler LLP. The Foghorn published its own story of the 53-page report earlier this year

SI’s report of a “predatory culture” contrasts with the independent investigators’ findings which stated that sexual misconduct “was not pervasive among members of the USF men’s soccer team over the past decade” and that only “a limited number of USF men’s soccer players engaged in such conduct during this time period.” 

Written by Priya Desai and Jenny Vrentas, the in-depth piece titled, “A Predatory Culture, a Viral Reckoning — and Now What?” offers explicit details from at least five victims of alleged unwanted sexual advances. The story included supporting testimonies from dozens of former USF students, including Aaron McNelis, a former USF soccer player from 2018-19. 

Among the most prominent details in the story were the pervasive campus whispers and routine warnings to USF female students of avoiding the “soccer house,” an apartment whose location changed throughout the years, where alleged “fresh meat parties” occurred during freshmen orientation. Other accounts of sexual assault taking place in that location were detailed in the story, but as the Foghorn reported back in January, the Hulst & Handler report stated, “The soccer house was a party house, but insufficient facts exist to substantiate the rumor that it was a location for incidents of sexual assault..”

The story later revealed that although the “soccer house” was made known to the campus community, it had been “dismantled” after former head coach Leonard Griffin’s hiring in 2019. However, Sports Illustrated reported that it was only done 18 months later after the “It’s on USF” campaign exploded on social media. 

Another disturbing detail in the SI piece were the allegations against former USF soccer player Manny Padilla. The Hulst & Handler report referred to a “lack of communication” and “misconception” which contributed to the Padilla case. However, Sports Illustrated was told that because Padilla was not given severe discipline, one of the alleged victims said she had to transfer, “a direct result, she says, of the lack of support she felt from USF to complete her degree on time while feeling safe on campus.” 

In an email to the Foghorn, the University said that the “Sports Illustrated story highlights serious harms that occurred within our USF community.” The statement further added, “The specific accounts by former students and survivors detailed in the story are heartbreaking and no one should have these experiences.”

At the time of writing, President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. sent out a campus-wide statement. Fitzgerald wrote, “I acknowledge that, regardless of what was included in the report, hurt and mistrust exist in our community. We are committed to rebuilding that trust and creating a culture and community at USF that stands in firm and demonstrable opposition to sexual misconduct and acts of discrimination.” 

Fitzgerald assured the University that “with new leadership, programs, policies, and additional staffing within the soccer program, Athletics, the Title IX office, CAPS, and beyond, change is taking place as we work together to ensure students, faculty, and staff are held accountable to community standards.”

Since Sports Illustrated dropped the story, it has gained traction across campus, including student ire on social media. As senior Jacob Sidaros wrote in a statement to the Foghorn, “I am honestly angry and ashamed to even go to a school that preaches social justice, but in reality, it doesn’t seem like they care about us.”  

The Foghorn will continue to report on the issues raised by Sports Illustrated’s coverage in the coming weeks. 

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