Rutgers softball players are the latest college student-athletes to allege severe abuse by their coaches, according to a lengthy piece of investigative journalism on the team that was published by NJ.com.
The piece details the alleged abuses perpetrated by first-year head coach Kristen Butler and her husband Marcus Smith, who volunteered to help out alongside his wife.
Under Butler and Smith, players claim they lived in constant fear that they would lose their scholarships if they complained about the abuse despite NCAA rules to protect them from such retribution.
The team’s culture was so toxic that 10 players left the team within a year of the new staff taking the helm.
The players claim that former senior Rutgers athletic officials, including athletics director Patrick Hobbs and deputy director of athletics Sarah Baumgartner, failed to adequately address the alleged abuse even after numerous players and parents complained.
The allegations against Butler and Smith, as reported by NJ.com and based on interviews with former Rutgers players, parents of former players and legal documents obtained by NJ Advance Media, include the following:
- Seven players said the team was regularly punished for menial transgressions with conditioning drills that veered into abuse. Two players said Butler would even physically push players in the back to make them run faster in drills.
- Six players said they were physically abused at practice, including one drill in which they were intentionally hit by pitches thrown by assistant coach Brandon Duncan. During another drill, Butler hit rapid-fire ground balls at a player, striking her with the ball and leaving her scratched from diving, multiple players said.
- Five players said Smith invaded their privacy by confiscating their phones and viewing their screens without permission, and made numerous inappropriate comments. In one alleged incident, he boarded the team’s bus and told the women it smelled like “period blood.”
- Seven players said Butler attempted to run out players she didn’t think were good enough from the previous coaching regime. She also possibly violated an NCAA rule when she attempted to revoke the scholarship of sophomore infielder Myah Moy and another player who ended up transferring, the two players said.
Rutgers administration was not pleased with the attention it received from NJ.com reporter James Kratch.
When reached by a reporter, Hobbs said, “You guys are f------ scum. Why should I help you people?” Hobbs reportedly sent the reporter a text message an hour later to “apologize for my words.” He then added, “This narrative around RU being a place where abuse is tolerated is bull----. But it gets clicks.”
Hobbs, Baumgartner and Butler all still categorically deny all allegations against the softball program and Rutgers administration. For her part, Butler denies ever having used conditioning as a punishment, and pointed to university protocols that permit her to reevaluate a player’s scholarship but said the characterization of revoking scholarships is inaccurate
This isn’t the first time that Rutgers has been in hot water for potentially abusive behavior on the part of its coaches. Mike Rice, who coached men’s basketball in 2013, and Petra Martin, who coached swimming in 2017, were both fired after allegations emerged of abusive coaching tactics. The school paid them a combined $1.2 million in settlement and buyout money.