Derek Leader, the head women’s soccer coach at Grand Canyon University, has been accused of mental and physical abuse by a number of his players.
According to the Arizona Republic, Leader used inappropriate language to insult his players, and would implement excessive exercise routines as a means of punishment. The paper details a 2016 case in which the team was made to go directly from a team bus to an outdoor track following a loss to run laps and do lunges in 100-degree heat. Players said that that was the beginning of a “toxic environment.”
In all, seven current and former players in the program have sent a letter to university leadership seeking the removal of Leader and associate head coach Malorie Rutledge. They’re also asking for an independent investigation into their abuse allegations and into possible NCAA violations that may have occurred. The letter’s signatories, which include the student-athletes’ families, are not reportedly seeking financial compensation, outside of legal fees and counseling costs. However, GCU disputes that, and in a statement regarding the case claims that at least one parent sought $125,000.
The university statement details the steps it took after receiving the complaints from student-athletes. It reads in part:
“Immediately upon receiving the student-athletes’ allegations — which primarily involve the use of excessive conditioning drills and inappropriate language — the University conducted a comprehensive investigation in which every member of the team, its coaching staff and athletic trainers were interviewed individually. Any steps taken by the University as a result of the investigation are confidential personnel matters, but in general the University did not identify any conduct that would justify the actions demanded by the student-athletes.”
Martin Greenberg, a Milwaukee-based attorney who has a record of representing student-athletes who allege abuse, is representing the student-athletes in this case. After interviewing the complaining players himself, he said in his letter to the university that he had found “ample evidence” of abuse, including excessive exercise leading to vomiting or loss of consciousness, refusal on behalf of coaches to take the advice of medical staff, injuries as a result of improper training, and improper comments made about women.
Some current and former team members told The Republic that they did not experience the alleged abuse.
“I think the people who are complaining were the ones who were out of shape and probably shouldn’t be playing at the D-1 level anyway,” former player McKenzie Cook, a recent graduate, told The Republic.