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SJSU Settles Retaliation Lawsuit, Apologizes to Swim Coach

Paul Steinbach
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San Jose State University has settled a retaliation lawsuit with Sage Hopkins and published a formal letter praising the swim coach and apologizing to him 12 years after he first brought forward the sexual harassment claims of more than a dozen female swimmers against athletic trainer Scott Shaw.

As reported by The Mercury News, as a result of SJSU's initial inaction, Shaw's abuse of athletes continued for another decade.

Hopkins reached what he termed an "amicable" settlement to the lawsuit he filed against the university in April that accused Marie Tuite, the former athletic director, of a years-long retaliation effort against him and seeking to discredit his accusations against Shaw.

The letter, posted Sunday and signed by interim president Steve Perez and current athletic director Jeff Konya, thanked Hopkins “for the courage he demonstrated advocating for the safety of SJSU student-athletes” and “for his commitment to do the right thing” despite “great personal sacrifice” as he tangled with his superiors over his ongoing complaints about Shaw.

The university letter praised the coach for his continued efforts to raise alarm bells over multiple claims of sexual harassment by Shaw, The Mercury News reported. However, it stopped short of offering neither accountability from the previous university administration that oversaw botched investigations allowing Shaw to continue working with female student-athletes nor acknowledgment that Hopkins had faced retaliation for his whistleblowing.

Tuite and then-president Mary Papazian both stepped down last year in the wake of the scandal. The university has agreed to pay $4.9 million in two different settlements to 28 victims.

“I do think it’s too little too late,” Lindsay Warkentin, a member of the 2009 swim team who complained about Shaw’s treatment, told The Mercury News. She blasted the university for not clearly acknowledging in its letter the retaliation that Hopkins faced for speaking out. “I mean his life for the past two and a half years, probably more, has just been hell because of this.”

In a statement Tuesday, Hopkins called the past years a “difficult and challenging time for myself and my family.” He said the public’s focus should be on “supporting and applauding the strength of the dozens of women who have come forward and participated in the various investigations.”

Federal investigators say Shaw had “unfettered access” to female student-athletes even as more victims came forward, including one as recently as February 2020.

Shaw maintains his innocence. Though he has not been charged with a crime, he remains under investigation by the FBI.

The case has spawned more than a dozen articles in AB Today in recent years.

Hopkins first raised concerns about Shaw in December 2009 after members of his swim team said the athletic trainer had touched them under their bras and underwear in what was described to them as “pressure-point therapy.” The complaint triggered a widely discredited internal investigation that quickly cleared Shaw of wrongdoing, claiming his methods were a legitimate form of treatment, The Mercury News reported.

Hopkins continued to raise concerns about Shaw and his access to female student-athletes. In 2019, he sent a nearly 300-page dossier to the NCAA, which sparked the second internal San Jose State investigation that reversed the decision to clear Shaw and led to a federal probe of the university.

Hopkins’s efforts would be vindicated by that second SJSU investigation and the subsequent Department of Justice probe.

San Diego State announced the existence of the letter of praise in a tweet, but SJSU faculty member Jason Laker, himself a former whistleblower who sued the school for covering up sexual harassment, said more should have been done on Hopkins' behalf.

“He was put through the mud, his career was being systematically destroyed as retaliation,” Laker told The Mercury News. “Frankly, [the letter of apology] should be emailed out to everybody with some commentary and a set of commitments. Will this finally be the time that the university leadership learns? Or will it be like every other time where it’s treated as a PR problem?”

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