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Report: Fresno Wrestling Stripper Party Part of Pattern

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A stripper party held for Fresno State wrestling recruits triggered a third-party investigation, which uncovered many more instances of sexual misconduct within the now-defunct program.

The university-sponsored investigation by the law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo summarizes findings regarding possible Title IX wrongdoing. It was presented in three parts and obtained by The Fresno Bee through a public records request.

According to The Bee, Jacqueline Hang, a senior associate at AALRR, conducted the investigation and interviewed more than 40 witnesses, including 31 wrestling student-athletes and two former wrestling student-athletes, an athletics trainer, an equipment room attendant and several athletics administrators. Hang also used notes from interviews conducted by athletics department staff in the early stages of the investigation.

Not all of the allegations were corroborated by multiple witnesses or confirmed by a preponderance of evidence, but the AALRR report provides what The Bee describes as "a deeper and more disturbing dive" into a program and coaching staff that also is facing allegations of NCAA violations even after the university eliminated the sport following the 2021 season.

The program had been shuttered previously, as well, but Fresno State hired head coach Troy Steiner to revive it in 2016. Steiner and former assistant coach Israel Silva are at the center of rampant alleged inappropriate behavior — mostly of a sexual nature.

According to the Title IX investigation report, Silva also had multiple instances of inappropriate verbal conduct of a sexual nature with or in front of members of the Bulldogs wrestling team, including jokes about “banging” a student-athlete’s mother, The Bee reported. Several witnesses also said he asked student-athletes to show him nude photos of their girlfriends, and asked student-athletes to show him a video on social media that was pornographic in nature and involved a girl engaging in sex acts with a dog.

One witness, identified as an assistant coach, said he heard Silva tell a student-athlete to share his girlfriend with other guys on the team. Specifically, since the student-athlete did not help another student-athlete with something, he had to “give [that individual] a night with Hannah [not the girlfriend's real name].”

Silva was also known to join in on "horseplay," including simulating sex acts with wrestlers. In one instance, Silva was alleged to have held a student-athlete face down on a bed in a hotel room during a 2018 road trip, making a comment that is usually used in the context of sexual intercourse.

Moreover, Silva was found to have encouraged or allowed student-athletes to hire strippers as part of a 2018 weekend official visit for recruits who may have been under 18 years of age, and failed to report that violation of athletics department regulations to the university’s Title IX coordinator or any athletics administrators. In interviews with investigators, Silva, who was not retained following the 2020 season, denied engaging in harassing or discriminatory conduct.

The majority of the alleged incidents occurred at a time when Fresno State athletics was transitioning between athletics administrations, The Bee reported, but similar incidents within the program likely go back further. One student-athlete said teammates had hired strippers at least twice before. Once the allegations were made, athletics department and university officials acted quickly to investigate, report potential rules violations to the NCAA and impose meaningful corrective measures or penalties.

The university initiated its investigation into the wrestling program in January 2020 after receiving internal reports about the stripper party, which was held at the apartment of a wrestling student-athlete and included two or three strippers. Almost all of the wrestling student-athletes admitted to either attending the party, saw videos from the party or heard about it from teammates or coaches, according to the report. Athletics staff members started interviewing student-athletes on Jan. 22, 2020, and the law firm was contacted on Jan. 30, 2020.

Steiner failed to report the stripper party to the university Title IX coordinator or to athletics administrators. He failed to report student-athlete accounts in which they allegedly informed him about a student-athlete’s alleged violation of the university’s policy against domestic violence. And he failed to report an incident when an assistant coach brought a female athlete into the men’s locker room without their knowledge while male athletes were undressing.

Failure to report the stripper party and the sexually-charged verbal conduct constituted violations of California State University Executive Order 1097, the system-wide policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation, sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence and stalking against students, according to The Bee.

The university issued the same statement more than once this week regarding the NCAA's notice of allegations on four rules infractions committed by Steiner, Silva and former volunteer coach Joe Colon.

“In early 2020, the university was made aware of potential concerns within our wrestling program,” the university said. “In full compliance with CSU, campus, and NCAA policies and procedures, the university and the Department of Athletics immediately launched an internal Title IX investigation and separately self-reported potential rules violations to the NCAA.”

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