Two Rutgers Scarlet Knights softball coaches have come under fire after a report Wednesday revealed extensive allegations of abuse against the program’s student-athletes in 2018 and 2019.
Kristen Butler, the team’s head coach, and Marcus Smith, Butler’s husband and a volunteer coach, were accused in an NJ.com report of fostering a climate of fear, intimidation and abuse on the team. Smith has since left the program. Rutgers University president Robert Barachi called for an independent probe.
Several players told NJ.com they endured dangerous conditioning sessions that left them in distress while being subjected to physical and emotional abuse. The players, most of whom spoke to the newspaper under condition of anonymity, said they lived in fear of being removed from the team or having their NCAA scholarships revoked despite rules to protect players from retribution.
In one instance, Butler is accused of making the team run six, 100-yard wind sprints because the program had gone $6 over their food travel budget in March 2019. Erin Collins, a 20-year-old sophomore, told NJ.com she felt woozy and eventually blacked out from running. She said he was afraid if she spoke up then the team would have to run more.
Rutgers head coach Kristen Butler, right, argues a call with the home plate umpire during an NCAA softball game against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, on Feb. 16, 2019.
“I just remember my eyes opening, like, ‘What happened?’” she told NJ.com, adding that her teammates “didn’t feel safe on the team.”
Collins was one of several players who had left the team. She has since transferred to the University of Tennessee. Players and parents told NJ.com that 10 players left the team within a year of Butler and her new staff taking over.
In addition to punishments over small wrongdoings, players claimed they were physically abused at practice and had their privacy invaded.
Six players detailed one drill in the report in which assistant coach Brandon Duncan intentionally hit players with pitches. Duncan also allegedly hit ground balls at a player, striking her with a ball and leaving her with a scratched head from diving for the ball.
Smith was accused of confiscating players’ cellphones and reading their screens without permission and in one incident walked onto the team bus and told the players it smelled like “period blood.”
The alleged abuse was filed in a legal notice to the school by seven former Rutgers players and Collins, according to NJ.com. Butler has denied all the allegations.
Rutgers coaches allegedly physically and mentally abused players.
Barachi called for an independent investigation into the allegations. He said in a statement that “nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students.”
Barachi also took a jab at Rutgers athletic director Patrick Hobbs who cursed at an NJ.com reporter when asking for comments. Hobbs reportedly told the writer: “You guys are f—–g scum. Why should I help you people?” He then sent the reporter a text message apologizing for his words before saying, “This narrative around RU being a place where abuse is tolerated is bulls—t. But it gets clicks.”
Barachi said Hobbs apologized to the reporter directly, but lamented that there is “never a time when such language is acceptable.”
Hobbs said the allegations were reviewed and action was taken. He said the university filed a report to the NCAA of a violation for allowing individual athletes to practice a total of two or more hours allowable over the course of two months. He added that 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.”
The latest scandal is another black eye for an athletics program that has seen more negative history over the last several years.
The university fired swimming coach Petra Martin in November 2017 over allegedly mental and verbal abuse allegations. Martin was alleged to have berated swimmers about their weight and ignored mental health concerns. She denied the allegations.
Football coach Kyle Flood was fired after the 2015 season. An NCAA investigation into the school’s athletics department revealed seven potential violations focused on Flood, a student-athlete host/hostess program and inconsistencies in the administration of drug-testing procedures and policies.
The investigation also led to the dismissal of Julie Hermann, who was replaced by Hobbs.
Rutgers fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice in 2013 after a video showed him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice. He was also caught using anti-gay slurs.
Rice’s dismissal led to the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti and interim general counsel John Wolf.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.