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Former Arizona Athlete Alleges Bullying in $3M Lawsuit

Paul Steinbach

A former member of the University of Arizona track team is suing the school, claiming he was bullied by teammates and assaulted by the head coach as a freshman.

As reported by the Arizona Republic, Michael Grabowski, who was a freshman during the 2017-18 academic year, makes multiple claims against the school, including defamation, Title IX violations and assault. The $3 million lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, also lists the Arizona Board of Regents and coaches from the track and field team as defendants.

The suit claims that Grabowski was the only athlete not to be issued a bed during training camp that year, and bullying continued from there.

After a knee injury at the camp, Grabowski’s father called associate head coach James Li to discuss the injury and concerns about bullying. Li responded that Grabowski didn’t "know the culture yet" but promised to look into the claims, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that Grabowski was bullied "almost daily" throughout the season and cites two students as the main perpetrators. Grabowski met with Li and told him about the students, but Li replied, "you can’t single out the two top runners on the team," according to the lawsuit.

After unsuccessful attempts to resolve the bullying issue, and then being forced to run a race while sick, Grabowski met head coach Fred Harvey, who dismissed him from the team. Li and other assistant coaches were present at the meeting as well, the lawsuit states. 

"There’s a certain atmosphere we are trying to establish on this team, and you do not fit in it," Harvey told Grabowski, according the lawsuit.

When Grabowski asked for an explanation and brought up his experience of bullying, Harvey assaulted him, the suit claims. According to the Arizona Republic, Grabowski alleges that Harvey pinned him to a chair and called him a racist and liar, while using expletives.

After the incident, Grabowski fainted and was taken to the hospital, according to the suit. Harvey has led the men's and women's cross country and track and field teams since 2002, and has been publicly supported by former student-athletes in the face of these allegations.

A UA official said in a statement that the university first heard of the allegations in fall 2018 and conducted a personnel review in the athletic department at that time, the Arizona Republic reported. 

"There is a distinct disparity between the allegations in the lawsuit and the concerns raised last fall," the statement said. 

The university said that the review focused on the meeting between the athlete and the coaches and Grabowski's trip to the hospital.

"The personnel review concluded that the coaches and staff acted appropriately," the university said. "The subsequent hospital referral process was reviewed by a senior medical professional in the athletic department and was determined to have been 'best practice.' "

The university said it intends to "strongly contest any lawsuits based on unsubstantiated allegations."

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