Students, parents claim University of Utah ignored coach's abusive behavior

For years, student-athletes and their parents approached the University of Utah athletic department with multiple allegations of abusive behavior by head swimming coach Greg Winslow, and yet the university never disciplined Winslow until it became aware he was the focus of a police investigation into the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl.

Accounts included swimmers blacking out in practice, needing emergency treatment poolside, one being transported to a hospital, buying an underage swimmer beer, an inappropriate relationship with a female swimmer, screaming at student-athletes, as well as kicking swimmers off the team without a detailed explanation.

In one incident, Karson Applin, an African-American, jokingly asked out of practice because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. According to Applin and other witnesses, Winslow responded by taping a long piece of PVC pipe along the length of Applin's back, then bound the pipe to his outstretched arms and ordered him back into the pool for a series of "underwaters" – sprints below the water line.

Under water for 12 to 14 seconds, for six consecutive intervals, Applin said he had trouble coming up for air. He eventually blacked out and had to be brought to the surface by a teammate, according to a witness.

From the early stages of Winslow's tenure at Utah, which began in 2007, student-athletes and their parents wrote pages of letters (which Yahoo! Sports has obtained) to athletic director Dr. Chris Hill. One letter dated as far back as February 2008, detailing incidents of perceived abuse by Winslow. One parent flew to Salt Lake City to speak directly with an associate athletic director. Several student-athletes transferred, with one writing to a university faculty representative that an "abusive and traumatic coaching situation" prompted her decision.

For all of this, Winslow was formally investigated once, in December 2012, and the university's Office of Equal Opportunity recommended no disciplinary action against Winslow.

"A sham of an investigation," is how one former student-athlete described it to Yahoo! Sports.

Only after a former student filed a police report in Arizona alleging Winslow sexually abused her when she was 15 did university officials take any disciplinary action. Utah suspended Winslow on Feb. 28, exactly five years after Hill received a letter from two parents outlining their concerns about the coach's treatment of his athletes.

"Utah did nothing," Suzanne Jurgens, whose daughter swam for Utah in 2008-09 before deciding to transfer, told Yahoo! Sports. "Utah covered this whole thing up, big time. None of us could get Utah to look at the abuse or take anybody seriously."

When reached for comment, Hill's office referred all inquiries to the university's legal counsel. In response to an inquiry from Yahoo! Sports, Robert Payne, associate general counsel for the University of Utah, wrote, "the Office of General Counsel does not speak on behalf of the University."

Suzanne Jurgens wrote her first letter to Hill on May 8, 2009, after learning her daughter, Lauren Hewson, was forced to swim underwaters with a mesh bag over her head. In the letter, she wrote, "human decency has been violated."

This week, in a phone interview, Jurgens said her frustration has not abated, even though her daughter transferred from Utah four years ago.

"Utah did not respond at all," Jurgens said. "I never heard from Chris Hill."

Jurgens is not alone in her feelings or her experiences, which she learned about very quickly from her daughter.

Hewson noticed erratic behavior displayed by Winslow almost from the moment she started swimming for Utah in 2008. Before the team received its equipment, Hewson said, a teammate, Major Robinson, brought a blue kickboard to the pool and Winslow became upset because blue was a BYU color. She said the coach threw a metal chair into the pool and ordered Robinson to do laps while keeping the chair out of the water. In another drill, Hewson said, a PVC pipe was taped to Robinson much as it would be for Applin more than a year later. (Robinson completed the drill without trouble.)

Things got worse for Hewson, however. Winslow ordered her to put on an oversized T-shirt and attach a small parachute to her waist. Then she was told to place a mesh bag over her head and perform underwaters. She struggled immediately.

"You're gasping for air," Hewson told Yahoo! Sports, "and then you freak out even more because the bag would just go to your face."

On another occasion, when Hewson had a knee injury, Winslow taped her legs together and ordered her to complete several circuits without being able to kick or walk. "I couldn't get in and out of the pool," Hewson said. "Instead of having my teammates help me, I had to slide my body around the pool deck. It was humiliating. He would sit there and laugh at me."

And on still another occasion, Hewson said, Winslow placed a mat at the end of a diving board and ordered swimmers to slide off the end of it and into the water. The swimmers came off the board with such speed that they spun over backward and hit the water spine-first.

"I had welts all over my back and all over my butt," Hewson said. "He would not stop until he kicked us out because none of us could do it right."

Out of the pool, Hewson said, there was even more cause for alarm. A female teammate – the same female who alleges Winslow sexually abused her as a 15-year-old in Arizona – told Lauren about late-night phone calls from the coach in which he would complain about marital problems.

"It started in the fall of '08," Hewson said. "From the first week I knew they had more of a relationship. Not sexual. I just knew they were closer than anybody else. They were joking around like no coach and athlete typically do. They had personal inside stuff and then they would scream at each other like cats and dogs."

On a ride home from the airport after a team trip, this same teammate (who was a teenager at the time) told Hewson that Winslow had bought beer for her.

This was enough for Hewson's mother to fly to Utah from her home in Colorado to confront the athletic department about Winslow. She said she met with associate A.D. Pete Oliszczak, who listened to her concerns and asked if she would talk directly to the coach. Jurgens said she would and Oliszczak summoned Winslow to his office. Jurgens went through the same list of accusations. Winslow denied everything. Then Winslow went to his office and called a meeting with Hewson. She said she arrived, sat down, and Winslow thrust a finger at her.

"You are full of [expletive]!" he screamed, according to Hewson. "You are full of [expletive]!"

Hewson immediately went to Oliszczak's office and told him what had happened.

"[Oliszczak] seemed concerned," Hewson recalled, "but I didn't get the reaction I wanted. You're going to allow some coach who's been accused of abuse to abuse a swimmer more?"

Multiple attempts by Yahoo! Sports to contact Winslow were unsuccessful.

Hewson eventually sought counseling from the University of Utah's College of Health. After a number of appointments with Hewson, Dr. Keith Henschen determined it would be best for her to transfer. In a letter to the University of Wyoming's compliance department, Henschen wrote that Hewson "felt that the communication from the [Utah] coaching staff was negative, humiliating, and disrespectful the majority of time. Incidentally, others on the team expressed to me exactly the same sentiments."

Hewson eventually did transfer to Wyoming.

It wasn't just a couple of disaffected swimmers. Others from Winslow's tenure have very similar stories.

"Fred," a swimmer who wants to remain anonymous, told Yahoo! Sports he was taken to the emergency room after performing underwaters back in 2007.

"First thing that happened was I started getting really dizzy at the walls," Fred said. "I started hyperventilating, pushing off a second or two late. He made the team start over again. I kept pushing it and eventually got really bad tunnel vision. The trainers were coming over to me, but Greg stopped them. I don't remember if I blacked out or not. Next thing I remember was lying by the side of the pool with trainers handing me an inhaler. All my arms, hands, fingers cramped up and I was shivering. They call EMS, who took me to the hospital."

Doctors diagnosed Fred with an asthma attack and a panic attack. He was required to see a school counselor and wasn't allowed to return to practice for a month. Fred said that despite strong recommendations from the counselor and team doctor that he rejoin the team, Winslow kept him out longer. When Fred did return, once again Winslow ordered underwaters and Fred got out of the pool after a short time to get his inhaler. Fred said Winslow told him, "You can't keep getting out to get your inhaler."

"What should I do next time?" Fred asked.

"Next time you better be going to the hospital," Winslow responded, according to Fred.

On Feb. 29, 2008, Fred's parents wrote to Hill with their concerns. Hill replied on March 26, 2008, with a letter of his own. "After reviewing the situation," he wrote, "I am convinced that the Athletics Department and the swimming program worked to assist [Fred] in providing the best care and support for him …"

Fred left the program. He lost his scholarship. To this day, he feels his career at Utah was forever altered because of how Winslow treated him.

"I can't go through a scenario where it would happen any other way," he told Yahoo! Sports. "I faced accusations of faking the asthma attack. Greg definitely implied several times I didn't have an asthma attack, even though doctors told my mom I had an acute asthma attack."

In December 2008, during a training trip in Mexico, one of Winslow's assistants, Charlie King, ordered Rick Mason to do a 50-meter underwater. Underwaters are common, though they are more difficult at that length and that high altitude. Mason said he blacked out, which a teammate confirmed to Yahoo! Sports.

"My friends told me I had help coming out of the water and I was convulsing or shaking," Mason said by phone. Teammates later told him a coach (King) ordered, "Don't help him out."

Following the coach's instruction, a teammate who was holding Mason upright in the pool let go. Mason fell face first into the side of the pool, knocking out a sizable chunk of a tooth.

King could not be reached for comment.

In an email to Mason's mother, a university official explained that Rick Mason "came out of the water after an underwater drill and that he had hit his front tooth on the wall and chipped it."

The university made no mention of Mason blacking out in the pool, no mention of the coach telling the teammate to let him go, no mention of Mason falling face first into the side of the pool, details which multiple swimmers shared with Mason's mother and also told Yahoo! Sports.

"This was not a safe situation," Kathy Mason said. "So I start hounding the athletic department. Where's the incident report? How come you didn't tell me something happened? Did we have a kid with concussion? A brain trauma injury?"

On March 28, 2009, Kathy Mason emailed the athletic department a lengthy list of concerns. She sent a separate email questioning the university's account of what happened in Mexico. That email included a detailed account of what she determined happened after interviewing multiple teammates who were there.

"I am a little concerned that the incident report is not an accurate portrayal of what actually happened," she wrote.

On March 30, 2009, Oliszczak responded, "We will be monitoring the swimming program and working to insure [sic] that our student-athletes are safe."

In January of 2009, another swimmer, Vlas Lezin approached Winslow during a meet and grabbed his shoulder to get his attention. Lezin said Winslow turned to him and said, "You're off the team." Lezin said he was not allowed to return to the pool for Utah. He said he approached the athletic department to appeal and received no help.

"I do not see any reason why such a disciplinary action was taken against me," Lezin told Yahoo! Sports. "He never warned me.

"I feel I've been extremely mistreated," he continued. "My case was not given any attention at all. Compliance is there to protect the student-athlete and there was zero done to protect me as an athlete or as an individual. I was treated like a thing – something he buys, he doesn't like it, he returns it, he doesn't care."

In all, Lezin counted 12 of 17 members of his swim class at Utah who left or were dismissed from the team.

"The psychological burden he imposed was the key reason," he said.

According to interviews and emails obtained by Yahoo! Sports, by 2010 at least five student-athletes and four sets of parents had voiced serious concerns about Winslow to university athletic department officials. No formal investigation was launched.

Eventually, the university did investigate Winslow. It happened late last year after yet another swimmer, Austin Fiascone, voiced his own concerns. Fiascone said Winslow kicked him off the team in November. He told Yahoo! Sports he asked Winslow multiple times for a reason why and every time was told that the team was better off without him.

"I wish I had stepped forward sooner," Fiascone told Yahoo! Sports. "I didn't want to ruin the team chemistry we had."

In November 2012, Fiascone's father, Matthew, sent a "Timeline of Events" to Hill and school president David Pershing. The list included the MLK Day 2010 incident involving Applin and examples of "aggression toward athletes" including "throwing equipment bags full of ankle weights at an athlete." Fiascone and Applin also recall an incident where Winslow missed a team trip and told the swimmers he had an alcohol problem.

"Perhaps most concerning," Matthew Fiascone wrote to Pershing in an email dated November 25, 2012, "is that the athletic department administration has been aware of at least several of the described instances for some time, but has chosen not to exercise reasonable institutional control and has left the coach in place, putting past, present, and potentially future student-athletes in harm's way both physically and physiologically."

In a reply from Pershing to Matthew Fiascone dated November 27, 2012, Pershing acknowledges an investigation had begun and wrote, "I have great confidence in this process and I hope that this response meets your expectations as well."

Winslow was investigated by Utah's Office of Equality of Opportunity (OEO). According to the university's website, the OEO is a resource for students and staff "who feel they may have been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, age, status as a disabled individual, disabled veteran, or veteran."

More than 50 student-athletes were reportedly interviewed during the investigation, which concluded that Winslow should not be disciplined.

Yahoo! Sports requested a copy of the OEO's report, but the university declined.

One swimmer currently on the team told Yahoo! Sports, "I do not believe the investigation was well done, and I know not everyone was interviewed."

"The team is in general happy to move forward without Coach Winslow," the swimmer added.

Both Applin and Austin Fiascone, who called the investigation a "sham," accused the school of failing to interview enough of the swimmers who had left the program. No former swimmers Yahoo! Sports spoke to for this story had been interviewed by Utah's OEO.

"I didn't even know about that department [the OEO]," said Hewson. "They never contacted me."

"All of these parents send these kids to this coach to make sure they're getting the best experience and that they're protected," she added. "And that didn't happen."

Said Kathy Mason: "The kids have not been kept safe. The athletic department has not kept control of things."

Said Lezin: "There was definitely not enough attention, if any, given to his abusive behavior. There were examples where he crossed the line and there was no investigation done."

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