An independent report investigating allegations of widespread abuse within the Rutgers University softball program found some evidence of inappropriate conduct by head coach Kristen Butler, but recommended no disciplinary action for her or her coaching staff.
As reported by nj.com, the seven-month investigation — commissioned by Rutgers president Robert Barchi and released Tuesday — called for a series of improvements to the program, including better communication of expectations of athletes, requiring an athletic trainer be present at all practices and revisiting school policy on allowing spouses to coach the same team, among other recommendations.
The allegations — based on interviews with seven former Rutgers players, parents and legal documents obtained by NJ Advance Media — included claims that players endured dangerous conditioning sessions that regularly left them in distress, while being subjected to wide-ranging physical and emotional abuse by Butler and her husband Marcus Smith, a volunteer coach. The report also included claims that Rutgers 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, according to nj.com.
The independent investigation advised Rutgers to draft a policy addressing how student athletes formally bring forward allegations against coaches for internal review and consider revising its policy for overseeing the signing of any forms that result in an athlete losing their scholarship.
Barchi said in a press release Tuesday the report found “that when issues were raised to our senior leadership, they were addressed."
Led by former New Jersey state comptroller Matthew Boxer, the report found that Butler used conditioning as a form of punishment, against the preferred methods of Hobbs. It also advised Rutgers to draft a policy addressing how student athletes formally bring forward allegations against coaches for internal review and consider revising its policy for overseeing the signing of any forms that result in an athlete losing their scholarship. Further, the report examines the vetting process of Smith, who was found in records obtained by NJ Advance Media to have been the subject of 14 complaints of inappropriate conduct while the head softball coach at Owens Community College in Ohio.
“When the University agreed to permit Butler to add Smith to her staff, Rutgers officials were not aware of a publicly reported controversy involving Smith from his time at Owens,” the report stated.
The report said Baumgartner later met with Smith, and Smith told her he was accused of being homophobic during his time at Owens.
“Smith told Baumgartner to feel free to reach out to his athletic director at Owens, but she did not do so," the report said. "Baumgartner told us that at the time, nothing that Smith said made her concerned about him holding an unpaid position at Rutgers.”
According to nj.com, players and parents said the culture under Butler and Smith was so volatile it prompted 10 players to leave the team within a year of the new staff taking over — an exodus that amounted to 58 percent of the players eligible to return in 2020.