Here are three letters from parents of athletes in the University of Illinois women's basketball program.
Letter from David and Lydia Tuck
April 25, 2015
David and Lydia Tuck
Chancellor Phyllis Wise
Swanlund Administration Building
601 E. John Street
Dear Chancellor Wise,
We are writing in regards to some concerns that have become epidemic and are affecting the entire Illinois Women's Basketball Program. It is our understanding that at least some levels of the administration have been alerted to many of these concerns, but we believe that challenges are broad enough that the highest levels of authority should be made aware. It is common knowledge that some player's parents are planning to escalate these issues. It is not our intention to bring reproach upon the program or the school. In fact, it is our hope that through quick and intentional action the school can head offrepercussions that could lead to challenges on several fronts.
To come to the immediate point, Head Coach Matt Bollant has created a culture of mental and emotional abuse in the Women's Basketball Program and has not been compliant in areas of NCAA rules and principles. The following would be some of the areas that will be easy to verify in a broad consensus among a majority of the players:
1. Coach Bollant has systematically tried to create racial tension among the team.
2. He has verbally abused and berated girls based on personal attributes that have nothing to do with basketball (such as their intellectual ability).
3. He has systematically tried to discourage team members to the point of voluntary scholarship withdrawal, particularly players that were in the program before he became head coach.
4. Without reasonable cause or violation, on numerous occasions he has threatened to take players scholarships, including telling them not to bother to renew their apartment leases because they would not be remaining with the team.
5. Showing extreme preference in what could only be perceived as attempts to belittle and discourage all but the favored players.
If these were isolated incidents then there would be little that any one individual could do to build a case for abuse. However, these infractions have happened on a reoccurring basis, and in certain instances, have involved the entire team. These violations have gone against the highest principles and standards of the university and the NCAA, as well as basic student rights. It is clear that the following areas of the NCAA Constitution (2014-2015), though subjective, have been violated in principle: Article 2:2.2.1-5. Also, the mandate of the University of Illinois for reporting objective violations of By-laws 10.1(c), 188.8.131.52.5 and I184.108.40.206.6 is plainly evident. These NCAA constitutional and by-law rules are substantially restated in paraphrase in the University of Illinois Student-Athlete Handbook (20 I 4-20 1 5).
It is very clear that the Women's Basketball Team is in violation of the NCAA Inclusion Rules that are mandated by the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504, and enforced by the OCR (Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education). The NCAA Inclusion guidelines refer to the OCR issue of a "Dear Colleague Letter" on January 25,2013 that clarified the understanding of discrimination in intercollegiate sports and brings understanding to these institutions as to the necessity of abiding by federal government mandates in their sports programs. For a coach to point out a student's disability (that the student athlete has an IEP for), and then to berate the student, violates the student athlete's civil rights and is discriminatory and harassment based on disability. Also, announcing on a radio program that aplayer has been dealing with depression is both a discriminatory violation and a violation of privacy.
Furthermore, a head coach announcing to the parents that an assistant coach is bipolar can in no way mitigate the abuse that is being perpetrated upon student athletes. On the contrary, it proves a point of negligent liability showing that the school has knowledge of the abuse but has chosen to excuse it.
In the past few years much study has been done regarding abusive coaches and their relationships with the athletes that they coach. It is understood that there are many reasons why an athlete will not report a coach for his/her abuses. It has been difficult to stand by as our daughter, Taylor, has informed us of the violations that have affected her and her teammates. As parents it is our natural instinct to protect our children, even as they have entered into adulthood. We hope that the university will quickly take the necessary steps to bring this program into proper compliance and protect the athletes who have made great effort to properly and respectfully represent the University of Illinois under very challenging circumstances. To prevent this from becoming an open spectacle of reproach for the university, I believe it would be in order for the team to be informed, in a timely manner, of administrative actions that are being taken to rectify the serious issues. Hopefully, this will curtail further actions from being taken by the athletes and their families that would bring this matter into a more public arena.
Please understand that we do not have a vendetta in any way against the University of Illinois. We have appreciated the high values and principles that the university stands for. However, in this particular case, we believe that a lack of information has been the most likely cause of the inaction of the university. Clearly, it is too late for actions taken by the university to have any positive affect on our daughter. However, it is our desire that student-athletes remaining at the school willbe protected. Also, action by the university might go a long ways toward bringing healing to players who have been embittered and wounded by the Head Coach and his staff. Although we do not purport to represent other players or their families, if you deem it of value we would be willing to discuss this further.
In light of the NCAA Constitution Article 2.1.1, we are copying this information to the university President, Chancellor, Board of Trustees higher officers, and the applicable Board of Trustees committee and Student Representative.
David and Lydia Tuck
cc: Mike Thomas, Director of Athletics
President Bob Easter
President-designate Timothy Killeen
Board of Trustees, Chairman Edward L. McMillan
Board of Trustees, Secretary Susan M. Kies
Board of Trustees Governance, Personnel and Ethics Committee: Chairman Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Timothy Koritz, James D. Montgofrery, Sr., Patricia Brown Holmes, Hannah Cave
Board of Trustees, Student Representative Lucas N. Frye
Parents of Taylor Gleason
Dear Chancellor Wise
I am writing you today with great happiness and with great concern. The happiness is that my daughter has transferred to Oakland University to continue her career and the concern is for the girls still at Illinois and playing for Coach Bollant. I have several issues that need to be heard and addressed. They are as follows;
Our daughter Taylor Gleason was a 4.0 student, 1st in her class, has two high school state championships, 5 AAU state championships, and was runner up to Miss Basketball for the State of Michigan. Taylor was recruited heavily by many teams from all over the country such as Notre Dame, Tennessee, Duke and De Paul just to name a few. She truly felt she could make a big impact in the Big 10 and at U of I. Taylor's experience started on her official visit where she was offered alcohol and drugs. Taylor has never used either in her life time. We were concerned from the beginning. We dropped Taylor off a happy, healthy, 143 pound athlete that was excited to be a part of something special. What we got was a depressed, overweight, under confident, abused, bullied young shell of our daughter. Phone conversations started out great, slowly declining to where we grew very concerned. We went to visit Taylor six weeks after we dropped her off and she was 30 pounds overweight and covered with acne. She would not tell us what was going on. We were shocked and greatly disturbed by our daughter's appearance only after 6 weeks. We begged her to tell us what was going on because what we saw was not our daughter. She would not tell us. We would sob with her. As the season progressed she became more and more depressed and unresponsive to us which led us to believe something had happened to her on campus. We thought she was physically assaulted or something of that nature. What we did find out later was that after we threatened to bring her home if she did not speak up was that in fact she had in fact been assaulted on the campus of U of I. She was verbally assaulted by her two head coaches. Only now has Taylor told us that as a freshman that they were told by the coaches not to tell their parents about what goes on in practice because they would not understand what we are trying to do here. As her parents it was a constant battle to get our daughter to believe in herself again. Taylor played in her first game and made a beautiful behind the back pass to her teammate to convert for two points. The fans and players went nuts. The fun and excitement came to an end in the locker room where she was completely demoralized in front of her entire team for "showboating" and not being their kind of player. Early on Taylor discovered she was not what they wanted. She was not allowed to pass with her feet off the ground and was not allowed to dribble or rebound or shoot a pull-up jump shot inside the 3 point line. Taylor is a game changer, a play maker, someone who makes everybody better around her so imagine her frustration of being told she wasn't allowed to play her basketball but to stand in the corner and only shoot threes. She was told daily she was not the player they thought they recruited, worst defender in the country and was treated like she was stupid. Bullied and demoralized daily. Worst of all she was told to stop playing like a boy! She was too athletic for their offense. They were asking her to dumb down her play to fit their offense. She sought out a mentor, Mateen Cleaves (Former NBA star from Flint Michigan) to ask is advice. He told her to, "Hang in there and try to give them what they want and every now and then show them a little bit of you. It would get better." Taylor did everything possible to be what they wanted her to be. She was in the gym more than any player on her team working on her game every day outside of practice. She averaged 6 hours a day in the gym every day. They made her change her shot 3 times during the season. Again she was runner up to Miss Basketball. She didn't need to change her shot! The treatment of Taylor by the coaches altered her life tremendously which in turn altered our entire family's lives. All of us worried about her wellbeing every day. We then get a call from Coach Bollant to tell us that we are putting too much pressure on Taylor and it is affecting her in practice. We spoke to Taylor about it and she laughed and said, "How would he know how I feel? He has never had a full conversation with me ever. They are the reason I'm struggling in practice because of their verbal and mental abuse. Taylor received no support from any of the coaching staff. She was only bullied and verbally assaulted on a daily basis. There was no building back up by anyone. All of the coaches are guilty of abuse by association.
Taylor was internally tormented with not only the abuse she was receiving but many of her teammates as well. Only "Certain girls" were invited up to the offices. Taylor and many other players were never invited up to the offices. The coaches would refer to the former coaches' players and Taylor as CRABS which meant that they were a part of a losing culture and would threaten them with D league practices. This threat meant that they would sit on the sidelines so as not to infect the new culture, their players and what they were trying to do.
There was not one team. It was grossly divided by old culture and new culture. Even though Taylor was brought in by coach Bollant she was classified with the black girls as CRABS because of their style of play. Racism comes in all kinds of forms and racism was a horrible issue with the U of I basketball program.
HARASSMENT, INAPPROPRIATE COACH/PLAYER CONDUCT, AND MORE BULLYING
Taylor worked all summer in the gym after her first season to try to change to become what they wanted. Taylor was confronted by the alcoholic point guard (captain) and was asked if she respected her? Taylor replied that she respected her as a player but not as a person. The point guard demanded that she write everything down and get back to her. She harassed my daughter for weeks and finally gave up. Taylor was afraid to put it in writing for fear that it would get back to the coaches and she would be punished as was the norm for crossing this captain. This is the same player that Taylor says, "She acts inappropriate with coach Divilbliss and it is uncomfortable to be around. She is always in his office and they are too touchy feely for me. They swear at each other. lt is creepy and disgusting. As it turned out this was the exact time (August) that the coaches began to shun my daughter and was never spoken to again. Taylor said, "Dad. They don't talk to me at all. They don't say hello. They don't even correct me at practice anymore. They don't even yell at me anymore, but they sure have me represent the school and have all the recruits stay with me on their official visits. I guess I am good for something. It is like I am invisible and not part of the team and I am doing really well at practice too." She was then placed on the men's practice squad and never had the chance to practice with her own teammates. She was no longer part of the team. Taylor was obviously distraught and devastated because she was being dismissed and disrespected which led to deep depression. She begged to come home at semester's end. She then sought out a psychiatrist in Champaign to help her deal with the mental abuse. The coaches did not address her in any form. The damage was debilitating to her.
To make matters worse Taylor was injured in October and was mistreated by your training staff for a 2nd degree high ankle sprain. She was forced to come back early and never was completely off her ankle for any period of time. Illinois trainer, Sam, told Taylor that this was the Big Ten and you have to play through it. It can't get any worse. She was never in a boot, which is normal for this injury. In fact she was running on it the next day. On December 30th she injured her big toe. Sam told her it was Turf Toe and once again was told to tough it out and that it could not get any worse. I made Taylor get an X-ray on December 31st. Dr. Bane confirmed it was a fracture. Sam looked at the X-rays and ignored Dr. Bane's diagnosis and said that she can play on Turf Toe. Three days later she was forced to play at Penn State. Taylor later called me that night and said the pain is excruciating. January 8th the team doctor, Dr. McDougal manipulated her foot and told her it was broken. This was the first day we found out that it was broken. Taylor had an X-ray on the 15th and it now showed that it was an avulsion fracture and much worse. To sum it up Taylor is currently in a boot which was demanded by an orthopedic doctor at Michigan State University. She returns to MSU in a couple of weeks to see if surgery is needed. I have attached the report I sent to Dr. Gurtler to express my anger and concern for my daughter's physical wellbeing that the FOIA information clearly shows as negligence on the universities part. Not only did my daughter have to deal with the mental abuse but now she has to deal with physical neglect. This entire time the coaches never even checked on her to see if or how she was feeling. After I demanded that Taylor take off the necessary time to heal and she found out it was broken and she was at practice the next day on a stationary bike, not one coach stopped by to ask Taylor what was going on. This is unbelievable. What is also unbelievable is that she was forced by Sam to play on what she thought was Turf Toe especially after the point guard for the University of Michigan's men's team missed the last 6 weeks of the season in a boot and a cart for Turf Toe. Not a fractured toe.
We are so disgusted with the sexual inappropriateness between Coach Divilbliss and a player, the verbal and mental abuse that all of the girls have endured, the racism that has plagued the program and the physical neglect of our daughter that we cannot be quiet.
The two head coaches used their power to dominate these young women mentally and verbally which silenced their voices as women. We as parents have had to re-instill in our daughters that their treatment was not normal and not OK. So we are their voices now to stop their abuse. The Illinois coaching staff should be removed from their duties and should never be allowed to coach young women again. They have altered these young women's live forever.
Let me leave you with this. Liars are no different than sinners and ignorers are acceptors which is cowardly and unacceptable. Which one are you? If our voices are not heard we will take it to the next level and if my daughter needs surgery and her injury is debilitating in anyway my attorney will be contacting you directly.
Thank you for your time in this matter. If you feel as though I could be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours in academics and athletics,
Concerned Parents of Taylor Gleason
Letter from Thomas Grusecki
From: Thomas D. Grusecki
Sent: Saturday, April 18, 2015 4:21PM
To: CHANCELLOR PHYLLIS WISE ; MICHAEL J. THOMAS
Subject: University of Illinois Women's Basketball Program
Regarding: Systematic Abuse, Belittlement, Demoralizing and a Racist Atmosphere in The University of Illinois Women's Basketball Program
Dear Chancellor Wise and Mr. Thomas:
Writing to you today sums up nearly every emotion in my wife's and my beings.
Our daughter, Jacqui Grant, recently left the University of Illinois and the Illini Women's Basketball Program under most unpleasant circumstances.
For the past two years, our family, and our daughter Jacqui in particular, as a full scholarship student athlete, have suffered through conditions that no one should have to endure as a parent or watch their daughter endure as maturing young woman.
Under the direction of Head Coach Matt Bollant and Assistant Head Coach Mike Divilbiss, this team, your team, our team, Illini's team, has been the target of countless acts of player abuse, NCAA rule infraction, personal belittlement, demoralizing diatribe and an overall culture of racist overtures.
We have gone through the appropriate prescribed channels and chains of command.
We spoke repeatedly and most directly to the Head Coach. We spoke to the Assistant Head Coach. We spoke to the Athletic Director. From the Head Coach & Assistant Head Coach, we were responded to with promises which were broken nearly immediately and our daughter suffered the repeated verbal public abuse of "not being tough enough". Beginning in August, 2013, I have repeatedly told both Bollant and Divilbiss that you cannot motivate through fear and intimidation. My words always fell upon deaf ears. The abuse from that point never lessened.
1) With Coach Bollant's full knowledge, Coach Divilbiss would verbally attack players on and off the court about personal issues in their lives. Jacqui was belittled by Coach Divilbiss about her dyslexia and her relationship with her father, from whom she is estranged. None of these personal life issues had anything to do with basketball.
2) In front of Sarah Hartwell and the team, Coach Divilbiss, with Coach Bollant present, told Jacqui that "if she didn't f'ing toughen up, she was going to turn into the next Sarah Hartwell", literally spitting on the players with his words.
3) Coach Bollant & Coach Divilbiss would both tell the team that "you are playing like you are trying to get us fired" and often threatened to pull their scholarships.
4) The code word for racial issues and tensions on the team was the word "culture" and the need to separate Jolette Law's players from the current recruits. Jolette Law's players were referred to as "the dog pound". At one point, there was an idea to hold separate practices for the African American players in an effort to get them to quit.
5) Jacqui was so pressured by the coaches to return to play after her bout with mono in her freshman year and her cardiac ablation procedure during her sophomore year, we literally had to go get her and bring her home to recover safely at home; away from the harmful mentality. With her mono episode, at the coach's direction, the testing was purposely delayed for weeks at the U of I to assure that she would continue to play in Big Ten games. lt was later determined at Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago that she was actually playing with an enlarged spleen.
6) Coach Divilbiss would repeatedly meet one on one with players at his home in order to "help them grow". Jacqui never met with him at his home. As Matt Bollant was aware, Mike Divilbiss has a near 20 year history of player abuse at ldaho and at Green Bay.
Matt Bollant said in our final meeting that "Mike has gotten progressively worse over the past two years" and apologized for Mike's behavior.
7) At the end of the season, the team was being coached and run by two current players. Jacqui and all team members were expected, under fear of reprimand, to be coached by these two players.
Jacqui witnessed team mates being the subject of several incidents of abuse from the coaches during her time at Illinois. In an opposite extreme, Jacqui witnessed other players being totally ignored by the coaches without the players' names even being spoken for months on end.
The coaches knew of older players buying alcohol for underage players as well as visiting high school recruits repeatedly. This was repeatedly ignored.
Let me be most clear. One of the most exciting days in this family's life was the day that Jacqui accepted the offer to play basketball at the University of Illinois. We had the highest of hopes, expectations and dreams. Jacqui started every game as a freshman and a sophomore.
Jacqui was a 2015 Academic All Big Ten selection. She has excelled academically. People like Debby Willard and Sara Hurst have helped Jacqui tremendously and have been a true blessing to Jacqui and our family.
Jacqui Grant is a young woman of tremendous character and integrity. She was always a team mate of positive influence and a true team player. Jacqui had several offers and has recently decided to continue her academic and playing careers at DePaul University.
Our daughter was verbally and mentally abused and chose to take the high road and leave the University of Illinois. Jacqui didn't need to fight for playing time and was certainly tough enough to compete at the highest levels in the Big Ten in spite of this ongoing coaching abuse.
The University of Illinois has a most serious problem that needs to be addressed. As a lifelong resident of the State of Illinois, this is nothing less than shameful. Matt Bollant is the orchestrator. Mike Divilbiss is the muscle. The balance of the coaching staff are spectators. The results are both embarrassing and intolerable to anyone with an ounce of common sense and morals.
What do I want?
I want to be assured that someone in a position of authority will review all of the above points raised and I want to be assured that someone in a position of authority will personally review all of the exit interviews of all of the graduating players and players leaving the program & university within the last year.
We wrote to you today in an effort to be the voices for those players and families afraid to speak out of fear of retaliation and losing their scholarships.
We are available to discuss any and all of the above with you at any time.
Thank you for your time, your consideration and your continued commitment to the University of Illinois.
Thomas & Christina Grusecki
CC: President Bob Easter
Board of Trustees, Chairman Edward L. McMillan
Board of Trustees, Secretary Susan M. Kies
Board of Trustee Governance, Personnel and Ethics Committee: Chairman Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Timothy Koritz, James D. Montgomery Sr., Hannah Cave
Board of Trustees, Student Representative Lucas N. Frye
President Mark Emmert, NCAA
Honorable Michael Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House