Separate federal lawsuits filed Wednesday claim a former Butler University athletic trainer sexually abused three women while they were members of the Bulldogs' soccer team.
As reported by the Indianapolis Star, the athletes claim in the three complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis that Michael Howell shared pornographic video clips and, in one instance, attempted to silence a victim by threatening to reveal potentially damaging information. They say Howell used hotel room massage sessions and special training outside his official duties "to build trust, isolate, and weaponized the young women’s desires to be the best athletes they could be."
According to Akeem Glaspie of the Star, the lawsuits name the university and Ralph Reiff, Butler's senior associate athletic director for Student-Athlete Health, Performance and Well-Being, as co-defendants. They are accused of failing to have appropriate conduct policies for athletic trainers and not properly supervising Howell. The lawsuits allege Howell's close relationship with co-head coach Robert Alman made it difficult for players to come forward.
"Howell’s sexual assaults were so frequent, over such a long period of time, and to so many women that the athletes coined the term 'the breeze' to describe it when Howell would lift their bras, spandex, and underwear and air would rush over their breasts and vaginal areas," the women allege.
The federal complaints were filed by Fierberg National Law Group on behalf of the individual players, identified in their respective complaints as “Jane Doe 1-3.” The women are seeking compensatory damages for psychological pain and suffering, medical bills and counseling and other cost for care as well as punitive damages, Glaspie reported.
In an email statement to the Star, a Butler spokesperson said: "The health, safety, and well-being of our campus community is always our top priority. In late September 2021, student-athletes on the women’s soccer team reported misconduct by Michael Howell, an assistant athletic trainer. Upon being informed of the allegations, the University promptly notified law enforcement, removed Howell from campus and suspended him from his job duties, pending further investigation."
The statement said Butler conducted a "thorough investigation and hearing" and found Howell was responsible for violating university policies. He was released from his job last summer.
"Butler looks forward to the opportunity to show the high integrity and responsiveness of the coaches and senior personnel," the statement said. "Because the complaints do not name the plaintiffs and they have not waived federal student privacy protections, Butler is limited from further comment outside of the legal process."
An attorney for the law firm representing the women said they know of at least six women who have come forward about abuse allegedly perpetuated by Howell on and off the university’s campus — in training rooms, private hotels, buses transporting the team and various other locations.
"One of the reasons our clients filed this lawsuit is so that other survivors will know they are not alone," attorney Monice Beck said, as reported by Glaspie. "In this day and age, knowing the abuse Larry Nassar perpetrated under the guise of providing medical treatment, it is inexcusable that this has happened on Butler's watch."