Detroit Mercy’s investigation into its women’s basketball program found that first-year head coach AnnMarie Gilbert didn’t ignore COVID-19 protocols or force unhealthy players to play.
The internal investigation stemmed from the entire team quitting in January after drafting a letter to administration in which they said Gilbert created a toxic environment and emotionally abused players. The university announced the suspension of the season on Jan. 21, when the school began to look into the allegations against Gilbert.
Related content: Detroit Mercy Women’s Basketball Quits Over Abuse
The Detroit Free Press reported Thursday that Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels Jr. said the investigation found that “the most serious allegations were found to be false and unsubstantiated.” The allegations included that Gilbert disregarded COVID-19 protocol, ignored coronavirus symptoms and forced players to practice while hurt.
“That was not substantiated,” Vowels said. “Injuries occurred, but they were properly addressed. No player ever — I repeat, ever — played who hadn't been cleared to play on the daily injury sheet.”
Some of the athletes said otherwise. A former player told the Free Press that she had a cancer scare prior to a January road trip to Green Bay. She said athletic trainer Mike Miller wanted her to take it easy and arranged a trip to the doctor. The player, whose test eventually came back negative, said she still had to practice, as Gilbert “showed no support” and “forced me to get into certain drills. Or if I was sitting out for a little bit because I wasn’t feeling well, she would get on me.”
The same player said that she felt sick with potential COVID-19 symptoms just before the trip to Green Bay, and that Gilbert told her “to put on a long-sleeved shirt.”
“Earlier in that week, we did have a couple individuals that had some nausea or stomach virus-type issues,” Gilbert said when denying the accusations. “No one was forced to travel, no one was made to travel. We had enough players to travel and compete with a healthy team./
“We were cautious about potential COVID related symptoms,” Vowels said. “And so we tested negative, and moved forward with that.”
Multiple players alleged that Miller told the player to lie about her COVID symptoms during pre-check screening at Green Bay’s Kress Center.
“That's completely false and inaccurate. I don't know where that came from,” Vowels said. “Mike Miller's been at this job for 11 years. He's one of the best athletic trainers in our entire league. And the processes and protocols that we go through to keep our kids safe, especially in this return to safe play program that we have in the Horizon League, we follow to the T, along with the CDC and along with the university policy also. So that is absolutely false.”
According to players, another athlete got sick along with three staff members, who still allegedly felt pressured to work.
Vowels said the program were tested for COVID-19 three times each week and never had any positive cases. Gilbert was never suspended over the allegations, with the university announcing April 15 that she would remain head coach.
The January letter, which was reported on by the Free Press, signed by 14 players and their parents included the following allegations:
• 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.