Multiple former Rutgers softball players and their parents have accused coach Kristen Butler and her husband, Marcus Smith, who serves as a volunteer assistant coach, of running the program through fear, intimidation and abuse, according to a lengthy report from NJ Advanced Media.
Multiple players told NJ.com that they “lived in constant fear of being banished” from the program or losing scholarships, and that they endured dangerous conditioning sessions while dealing with “wide-ranging physical and emotional abuse” — including being shamed for being “overweight.”
Butler, who was hired in June 2018 after a stint at Toledo and brought her husband with her, have seen 10 players leave the program within their first year — by far the highest turnover rate among all sports at the Big Ten university. The players and their parents also accused Rutgers officials, including athletic director Patrick Hobbs, of failing to address their multiple complaints.
Running until they collapsed … over $6
One example in the report detailed an incident in which the softball team went just $6 over its food travel budget in March after a stop at a Cracker Barrel. At their next practice, players were made to run six 100-yard sprints in less than 17 seconds each — one for every dollar the team went over budget. If they didn’t make it in time, the team had to start over.
Many, per the report, were left crying, collapsed or doubled over.
Then-sophomore Erin Collins, who has since transferred, even blacked out.
“I just remember my eyes opening, like, ‘What happened?’” Collins said, via NJ.com.
Yet even with her laying on the ground receiving treatment from the medical staff, the rest of the team kept running sprints around her. Another player later collapsed, too.
In a separate incident, one player told NJ.com that she legitimately considered “falling down and hitting a glass ledge” to hurt herself on purpose in order to get an “extreme conditioning” drill to stop.
“I am an athlete that knows how to be tough and knows being a championship team takes grit and sacrifice,” an anonymous player said, via NJ.com. “That being said, the things we endured this season made us miserable. There is a fine line between making us stronger mentally and physically pushing us to breaking points.”
The allegations against Butler and Smith, based on interviews with former Rutgers players, parents of former players and legal documents obtained by NJ Advance Media, include:
Seven players said the team was regularly punished for menial transgressions with conditioning drills that veered into abuse. Two players said Butler would even physically push players in the back to make them run faster in drills.
Six players said they were physically abused at practice, including one drill in which they were intentionally hit by pitches thrown by assistant coach Brandon Duncan. During another drill, Butler hit rapid-fire ground balls at a player, striking her with the ball and leaving her scratched from diving, multiple players said.
Five players said Smith invaded their privacy by confiscating their phones and viewing their screens without permission, and made numerous inappropriate comments. In one alleged incident, he boarded the team’s bus and told the women it smelled like “period blood.”
Seven players said Butler attempted to run out players she didn’t think were good enough from the previous coaching regime. She also possibly violated an NCAA rule when she attempted to revoke the scholarship of sophomore infielder Myah Moy and another player who ended up transferring, the two players said.
Collins has since filed a legal notice and sent it to Hobbs and the Rutgers athletic department in July, seeking damages from the school for lost tuition after she transferred.
This marks the third time in six years that coaches at the school have faced similar accusations, per the report, joining basketball coach Mike Rice in 2013 and swimming coach Petra Martin in 2017. Both Rice and Martin were fired in the wake of their respective allegations.
Smith’s repeated inappropriate comments, privacy concerns
Smith, who was investigated for inappropriate conduct as the head coach at an Ohio community college and cleared, reportedly made inappropriate comments repeatedly to players and staff members.
One player said he told a Native American staff member who was putting on sunscreen that he “didn’t know people like you got sunburns,” while parents said he once made a comment about trying to guess everybody’s sexual orientation.
Smith, who has since left the program, even enforced a team rule last spring where he would confiscate player’s phones at night on road trips. One player said that she saw him scrolling through her phone the next morning, and others saw him looking through notifications that popped up on locked phones. Others would turn off their phone before handing it to him at night, only to find it turned on the next morning.
Hobbs lashes out at a reporter
NJ.com reached out to Hobbs with questions about the allegations, and received a call back from him on Tuesday.
Hobbs, though, was far from pleasant.
The athletic director reportedly “launched into a profanity-laced tirade” directed at the reporter.
“You guys are f---ing scum,” Hobbs told the reporter, in part, via NJ.com. “Why should I help you people?”
Hobbs texted the reporter about an hour later to apologize.
“This narrative around RU being a place where abuse is tolerated is bulls--t,” Hobbs texted with his apology, via NJ.com. “But it gets clicks.”
Rutgers, Hobbs apologize to NJ.com
Both Rutgers president Robert Barchi and Hobbs issued public apologies on Thursday to the reporter Hobbs lashed out at.
“The other day I reacted inappropriately when informed that we would not be given some additional time to respond to a reporter’s questions concerning our softball program … As a leader at Rutgers University and someone who should serve as a role model to our young men and women it was wrong for me to use the language that I did,” Hobbs said, via Adam Zagoria. “I apologized to the reporter but I owe an apology to the Rutgers community as well.
“It won’t happen again. The well-being of our student-athletes is always my first priority, and we will continue to be vigilant in addressing any concerns across all of our programs.”
Butler has denied all allegations against her coaching staff, and said that no conditioning session was ever abusive or used as a punishment. She also denied claims of physical abuse, and did not admit any “wrongdoing on behalf of her husband” to NJ.com.
Barchi has called for an outside investigation into the allegations.
“I do not tolerate abusive behavior and Rutgers University does not tolerate abusive behavior,” Hobbs said in a statement, via NJ.com. “Rutgers University is a national leader in how such claims are addressed.”
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