This has troubled me so much that I cannot stop thinking about it. I cannot stop thinking about it because I have been in a similar situation, and I have watched another similar situation. The fact that bullying may be legal does not make it acceptable, and it is incumbent on those in authority to put a stop to it.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know anyone in the UI Women’s Basketball Program, and I am in no way accusing anyone of anything. I am speaking strictly from my own experience and what I have witnessed personally, and how eerily similar these allegations are.]
This is what I know. Abusers divide and conquer. Abusers create tensions between people who otherwise would work beautifully as a team. Abusers make inappropriate comments to people and then say they were misunderstood if anyone is offended and/or complains about it. Abusers can be especially nasty to individuals when no one is watching and then can appear to be completely opposite to those same individuals when there are witnesses.
People who are being abused or watching abuse change. Their body language changes. Their behavior changes. Their ability to be productive changes. And it’s important to remember that abusers don’t abuse everybody, so some people don’t understand why others are having a problem. That’s all part of the “divide and conquer” approach. Another symptom of a toxic environment – people leave. If people have other options, or sometimes even if they don’t, they leave. Most importantly, the tone is set at the top, and if the person/people at the top do not tolerate abuse and bad behavior, it doesn’t happen, or if it is happening, it ends, because they take action.
Having said that, let’s review: Four players have transferred to other programs, and an assistant coach has resigned. That SCREAMS that there is a problem.
For the full texts of the three parent letters, see the above link. This is all now public record.
These are various points made in one letter:
- Coach Bollant has systematically tried to create racial tension among the team.
- He has verbally abused and berated girls based on personal attributes that have nothing to do with basketball (such as their intellectual ability).
- He has systematically tried to discourage team members to the point of voluntary scholarship withdrawal, particularly players that were in the program before he became head coach.
- Without reasonable cause or violation, on numerous occasions he has threatened to take players scholarships, including telling them not to bother to renew their apartment leases because they would not be remaining with the team.
- [He is] showing extreme preference in what could only be perceived as attempts to belittle and discourage all but the favored players.
From another letter:
We dropped [our daughter] off a happy, healthy, 143-pound athlete that was excited to be a part of something special. What we got was a depressed, overweight, under confident, abused, bullied young shell of our daughter. We were shocked and greatly disturbed by our daughter's appearance only after 6 weeks.And:
The two head coaches used their power to dominate these young women mentally and verbally, which silenced their voices as women. We as parents have had to re-instill in our daughters that their treatment was not normal and not OK.
Then from the third letter:
With Coach Bollant's full knowledge, Coach Divilbiss would verbally attack players on and off the court about personal issues in their lives.
This is what is the most troubling to me, and forgive me for stating the obvious. This is the University of Illinois. These are talented and bright young women who have been verbally beaten down. This is not just tough love. These are all the symptoms of abuse and bullying. It should not happen to anyone, but the fact that it is allegedly happening at the University of Illinois? As one parent letter said, and this is heartbreaking to me: “Let me be most clear. One of the most exciting days in this family's life was the day that [our daughter] accepted the offer to play basketball at the University of Illinois.”
I’m trying very hard to take the emotion out of my words. I’m trying to be objective. And I so desperately want to believe it’s not true. But I recognize these accusations all too well, and it’s making me incredibly sad.
Hooray for these parents. Hooray for them showing their daughters that they have their backs and they believe in them. Hooray for them empowering these young women to know they have options, and that they deserve better.
As for the higher-ups, as I said before, and as I experienced, if the people at the top do not tolerate abusive behavior, it will stop. It doesn’t matter if it may be legal or if it doesn’t violate NCAA rules. Bullying at any level is never acceptable, and the University of Illinois leaders need to enforce that standard. They need to give this more than lip service, and they need to do so immediately.