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Bemidji State Reacts to Report of Coach Harassment

Paul Steinbach

A report posted Wednesday evening by the Bemidji Pioneer regarding inappropriate contact between a former Bemidji State University softball coach and a player has prompted a response from BSU president Faith Hensrud.

Eleven current and former softball players spoke to the Pioneer on condition of anonymity and collectively described their frustration with the university dating back years over its inaction regarding Rick Supinski, the 50-year-old married head coach who was placed on administrative leave March 22 — the same day a player reported being the target of unsolicited sexual advances.

Screenshots obtained by the Pioneer include dozens of texts Supinski sent in his prolonged attempt to develop a relationship with the player.

In one message, he texted the player, “I wanna make love to you in the mornings… just wondering if you would be into it. Good way to start our days off.” Several messages later, he confessed, “I honestly cant [sic] hide the fact that I adore you any longer.”

The player frequently denied or ignored Supinski’s advances that came through text. Her responses included remarks like, “So inappropriate,” “Yeah okay you should know better than to do that,” and, in part, “Youre [sic] my coach and you should have never let yourself feel the way you do. I did nothing wrong.”

The player and five others also said that Supinski’s advances went beyond texting. They told the Pioneer that Supinski devoted a disproportionate amount of his time in practice to the player, that he isolated her from teammates and that he once grabbed her buttocks as she exited the team bus.

As reported by the Pioneer, four softball players said a larger group of players previously met with Bemidji State director of athletics Tracy Dill in spring 2018. In that meeting, they said they voiced to Dill that they believed Supinski was neglecting his on-field coaching duties and that they believed he was engaging in inappropriate off-field behavior.

One player also said a group met with Dill in fall 2018 to bring forth similar concerns. BSU apparently took no formal disciplinary action against Supinski either time. He continued to coach the team until his 2019 leave.

Supinski’s employment ended May 14, eight seasons after he was hired in November 2011, though it remains unclear whether he resigned or was fired. He also missed the 2014 season after the university received a complaint against him, and Supinski was placed on paid administrative leave.

Hensrud responded to the accusations of inaction Thursday with the following statement:

The Bemidji Pioneer reported inappropriate behavior by a former Bemidji State University softball coach in a story that referenced lack of action by the university. I assure you that as the President of Bemidji State University, the safety and well-being of our students is my top priority.

Sexual harassment is prohibited. Bemidji State University is committed to eliminating sexual harassment and will take appropriate action against any individual found responsible for such acts. When we receive a complaint or concern from a student, faculty, or staff member, we take swift action. At the time that an allegation of inappropriate behavior is first reported, we conduct an investigation to ensure we understand the details of the allegation. Once the investigation is complete, the university decides whether or not there is a violation of a Minnesota State policy. If there is a violation of policy, then appropriate disciplinary action is taken.

Our policies are clear. To help ensure that everyone is aware of our policies and procedures, BSU students, faculty and staff are provided with information in multiple ways so they understand how to report a concern. Processes for submitting complaints related to sexual harassment are communicated broadly, including on the university website.

Related to any individual investigations, the university is required to follow the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This law limits the information that can be shared to only public data as defined in the Act.

I recognize that it takes great courage to report concerns regarding inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. We take these situations seriously, and I want to ensure that our students feel confident and safe when they make the brave decision to share a concern. I encourage any individuals with complaints or concerns regarding situations that occur at Bemidji State to follow the reporting process outlined on our website. If you see it, or if you experience it, report it -- and know that your university will support you.

You can read more about Bemidji State's policies and procedures related to sexual harassment reporting, as well as resources available for our students, on our website at: https://www.bemidjistate.edu/offices/affirmative-action/discrimination-and-harassment/

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