Campus community reacts to disturbing Sports Illustrated story
After nearly a year and a half of investigative reporting, Sports Illustrated (SI) published a damning report Sept. 30, exploring years of sexual abuse allegations and the subsequent “predatory culture” that surrounded the USF men’s soccer team from 2003 through 2019.
“I felt so many emotions as I read through the article this morning. I felt so much anger towards the assaulters,” said sophomore Scarlett Dumadag in a statement to the Foghorn. She later added, “Most of all, I felt very let down by the lack of action taken on the University’s behalf to those who assaulted others and those who were assaulted.” Dumadag explained that she had only been aware of the allegations when they were made public last summer.
SI revealed numerous accounts and supporting testimonies of alleged unwanted sexual advances by former USF male soccer players. Though most of the allegations were covered in the University-commissioned independent Hulst & Handler report released back in January 2021, parts of the article contrasted the independent investigation. The Hulst & Handler report ultimately concluded that only a “limited number of soccer players over the past decade does not represent pervasive sexual misconduct within the soccer program,” much to the dismay of many in the USF community.
Since the SI report, President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J has released a statement to the University. Changes noted by Fitzgerald in his statement included a new position within the Title IX office, updated policies by Title IX for student-athletes, and increased dialogue between University stakeholders, the athletics department, and the student body.
In a statement to the Foghorn, Title IX coordinator Jess Varga said, “The accounts of survivors in this article demonstrate how critical it is for USF to listen to the courageous voices sharing their experiences, and to respond with the appropriate resources, remedies, and support to repair harm and prevent recurrences.”
Sophomore Drew Love described the story as heartbreaking but not shocking. Though he appreciates the changes Title IX is taking, Love said, “We can only judge change and progress by seeing what unfortunately happens the next time a member of our community experiences sexual violence and turn to USF for help.”
The prevalent nature of the allegations was one of the major themes in the SI article. For senior Lydia (a pseudonym, as the Foghorn agreed to their request to remain anonymous), it was unsurprising for them to read the story. “We all knew this yet we thought it was normal to keep it under wraps.” Lydia recounted when they were previously friends with a former soccer player, whose name they wished to keep anonymous. They had heard from the player that “their own housemates and teammates were aware what they were doing and no one said anything.”
Lydia said the biggest reason for their anger was knowing “that some of these guys are still playing or were able to play at different universities.” The Foghorn could not confirm or deny allegations that former USF men’s soccer players who were accused continued playing at different institutions.
For the first time since the story’s publication, Athletic Director Joan McDermott provided a statement in an email to the Foghorn. She wrote, “I want our community to know that none of our current student-athletes or coaches of the men’s soccer team were enrolled or employed at USF when the events described in the article took place. All members of the team are committed to supporting a culture of respect and inclusivity on and off the field.”
Current USF men’s soccer head coach Chris Brown also gave his own statement to the Foghorn. He wrote, “The University of San Francisco Men’s Soccer program stands in solidarity with all victims and survivors of rape, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, homophobia, and any other forms of assault or harassment.”
Like McDermott, he also clarified that “since 2019, our men’s soccer program has been on a mission to reform the culture and behavior of the men’s soccer program. This started with the hiring of a new head coach and staff who reshaped the roster of players and team culture. I was hired in May of 2021. The positive shift in culture is something we are proud of and is something we will never stop working on.”
One component that stuck out for students was the supposed hubris that some former soccer players had displayed when they faced criticism. McDermott said that she understood that “there is a perception in our community that student-athletes at USF enjoy a privileged status. That is not the case; but I recognize that clear communication is needed within and beyond the athletics department.”
Meanwhile, the men’s club soccer team on campus provided its own statement to the Foghorn, clearing any link with the men’s varsity team. They said, “As a team, we are deeply disturbed by the reports of sexual misconduct, and our support will always be with the survivors.”
One of the players in club soccer, senior Zachary Huynh, said, “The emotions in which I felt while reading were intense and in no way, shape, or form should any of the actions that were committed should be tolerated on any scale. However, I am glad that these stories are now being shared, but it is also sad to see how little knowledge people know of the situation that has been going on for years now.”
Since its release, many classes could not avoid discussing the sensitive but important topic. Politics professor Stephen Zunes said, “We spent the first 20 minutes of class talking about it today. A couple of [upperclassmen women] noted that they were told their first week at USF to avoid parties at the ‘Soccer House.’” Zunes later said, “I hate to say this as a soccer fan, but they should have done what they did to the basketball team in 1982 when such institutional problems were revealed—shut the whole program down for a few years and get a fresh start.”
In 1982, the USF men’s basketball program was shut down by then-president Lo Schiavo after allegations of NCAA recruiting violations, financial violations, and a sexual abuse case against a former star player, Quintin Dailey.
So far, this suggestion has not made traction across campus nor has it been addressed by the President’s office, University leadership, or Athletics.
Aside from better addressing sexual abuse claims and protection for victims, claims of former players saying sexist and anti-LGBTQ+ slurs have caught students’ attention. In an open letter posted on their social media, a junior student who requested to be named “LM” for privacy purposes said, “The fact that these allegations had to be brought to the public in order for them to be investigated means that people on the inside [Athletics] were dismissive and did not take action in reporting such speech and misconduct.”
“LM” also posted a list of demands, including that “more information about resources for women and LGBTQIA+ individuals are posted around campus as well as online by CAPS and our university president, Fr. Fitzgerald.”
In Varga’s statement to the Foghorn, she reiterated that under her leadership, “the Title IX office will be the leader in the education, prevention, and response efforts for sex and gender-based discrimination and sexual misconduct at USF.”
Provost Chinyere Oparah also shared a statement to the Foghorn, saying she vowed to continue “working with Fr. Paul and colleagues on the [President’s] Cabinet to ensure that all members of our community can live, learn and work free from sexual and gender-based violence.”
For Devi Jags, one of the organizers of the independent organization, “It’s On USFCA” who advocates for University reform, the SI article finally sheds light on victims’ stories and “the brave women that have come forward have helped numerous others in the USF community and beyond.” Jags said that this is only the “beginning for change and justice.” Jags added, “Sports Illustrated investigated, now it is time for the Department of Education to get involved.”
The Foghorn will continue its coverage on the issues raised by Sports Illustrated’s article and anything related to this subject in the coming weeks.
Miguel Arcayena is a senior politics major and the Foghorn’s news editor. He covers COVID-19-related campus news and administrative issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.