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Detroit Mercy Women's Basketball Quits Over Abuse

Andy Berg

The entirety of the Detroit Mercy women’s basketball team has quit after alleging head coach AnnMarie Gilbert emotionally abused players and created a toxic environment. 

Detroit Mercy has canceled the remainder of its season after 14 players and their parents signed a letter addressed to Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels Jr. that detailed allegations of player mistreatment by the first-year coach.

“It's been a nightmare,” one parent, who requested anonymity Wednesday due to concerns of retribution toward their daughter, told the Detroit Free Press. “Our girls are just not the same.”

An athletic department spokesperson responded to the Free Press request for comment with an email stating, "The health and well-being of our student-athletes is our athletic department's top priority. We have talked with all players and members of our women's basketball program about their concerns. We take them very seriously and will continue to review them closely. As we have prioritized the needs of our student-athletes during this challenging academic year, we have decided to suspend the 2020-21 women's basketball season."

Parents said they were “blown away by the horrific stories of utter disregard for the care and wellbeing of our student-athletes” as each detailed their daughter’s stories, according to the letter.

“Everybody had their own little things but thought it was isolated,” said another parent, who also requested anonymity Wednesday. “It makes it tough under COVID when there’s no interaction between parents – you don’t see each other at games, there’s just no connection there. Last weekend, everybody got on a Zoom and told their stories. It started real slow, and then somebody told a story and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And then someone else did."

Players told the Free Press that they would play their upcoming games only if Gilbert was removed as head coach.

“It has become painfully obvious that our young women are suffering emotional, mental and physical abuse under the leadership of (Gilbert),” the parents and players wrote in the letter to Vowels Jr. “Many of us have encouraged our daughters to seek the help of administration, however the girls are terrified of the retaliation from Coach Gilbert, who has created a hostile environment of fear and isolation. … Some players report that they have never had a battle with mental health until this season.”

The letter included numerous accusations against Gilbert, including but not limited to:

• Players being told by Gilbert to not tell trainers if they believed they were injured, which “created a toxic environment in which players are afraid to honestly communicate their injuries and illnesses to the athletic trainer” Mike Miller. It is alleged Gilbert told them “if your bone isn't sticking out, you need to be giving something.” Those injuries included concussions, plantar fasciitis, bone bruises, fractures and migraines, and players allegedly were “coerced and guilted into competing” while hurt;

• Demands by Gilbert that players “disregard or not report” COVID-19 symptoms if they felt sick on game days;

• Violations of NCAA rules that require athletes and teams not exceed 20 hours of countable athletically related activities per week;

• Players “being directed to do extra workouts as a sign of commitment” to the program, with those who are not getting significant game action being required to do those on off days or after the four-hour daily NCAA practice limit;

• Gilbert telling players they were “not being committed to the success of the program” by prioritizing academics over basketball;

• Forcing players to drop or bypass classes that interfered with the daily noon-3 p.m. practice time, including labs needed to graduate that are only offered by UDM between 2-5 p.m. one day a week.

“You have complaints on teams a lot. That’s not unheard of,” one of the parents said. “But you have 100 percent participation. I don’t care if you’re the girl at the end of the bench that’s not getting any minutes or a starter that’s getting over 30 minutes, everybody’s got the exact same complaints.”

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