USF Athletics Department responds to letter from student athletes

“We are writing this letter because of the lack of transparency and acknowledgment of these issues and how they affect us. There has been no space for us to voice our concerns and feelings regarding the ongoing issues that have been highlighted in the articles.” — Letter from USF student athletes, published in the Foghorn on April 21. 

The Foghorn reached out to the students who wrote the letter for comment on April 26, 2022 but received no responses prior to publication. 

On March 23, a group of 59 athletes from nine different sports teams emailed a letter to the USF Athletics Department addressing the recent instances of sexual misconduct within the Athletics Department. The letter has since gained traction on social media, having been reposted by student orgs such as @itsonus_usfca, which advocates for community education and prevention against sexual assault. 

The letter was written amid the recent news that three former USF baseball players are suing former head and assistant coach for inappropriate sexual misconduct, as well as the Sept. 30 Sports Illustrated report that uncovered a “predatory culture” within the men’s soccer team. 

Following the letter’s initial release, University spokesperson Kellie Samson says Director McDermott met with students and responded to the letter in writing a few weeks later. On April 27, Vice President of Business and Finance Charlie Cross met with the students to further discuss the next steps. 

Less than two pages long, the letter was brief and to the point, but delivered a lasting impact by offering a harrowing look into the state of communication and trust between USF athletes and directors. 

“We recognize that there have been shortcomings in communication between the Athletics department administrators and students,” explained Samson in a statement to the Foghorn. “We are committed to improving that, especially at the beginning of each academic year so that all student athletes have clear information on support and services.” 

Included in the letter were four specific demands. The first is, “The administration will meet the student-athletes to inform us of current and future events that have or will happen, and create ongoing trusted communication when it is legally possible to do so.” 

The second consisted of a list of areas in which the Athletics Department could improve moving forward. These areas included “repairing the damaged trust of student-athletes” as well as “increasing the frequency and robustness of training with Title IX.” The letter called for a strategic plan on how to address these issues moving forward. 

The letter also called for a prioritization of funding for student-athlete-specific mental health services, as well as an examination into how well the University has implemented the Rebuilding Trust and Community Working Group Document that was created by USF and Title IX following the Hulst and Handler Investigation in 2021. 

In response to the letter, “USF Athletics applauds these student-athletes for coming forward and for articulating the improvements they would like to see in terms of the support and communication USF offers them,” Samson said. “Further, their constructive suggestions – and reporting the conversations they have had with other student athletes across the university – will, we believe, lead to changes in operations and support that will benefit all our students.” 

Samson went on to detail the specific ways in which the University plans to address the letter and what they have accomplished thus far. These steps include, “Restructuring of the Student-Athletes Athletics Council (SAAC) to be fully student-managed,” as well as, “implementing a new role for a clinician from CAPS to provide dedicated support to USF student-athletes, identifying new and improved social and gathering spaces with athletics facilities, and studying ways to employ coaching effectiveness in surveys.” 

Ultimately, the letter emphasized the importance of speaking out and working towards creating a more safe and open environment on campus. When asked how the department envisions its relationship with student athletes moving forward, Samson said, “We believe we are in a strong position to move forward in ways that will improve the experience of our student-athletes and bring pride to the entire University community. We envision that this partnership between the student-athletes and the athletics administration will grow stronger, thanks to the leadership of these students.”

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