Niagara Swimmers Sue School Over Alleged Harassment By Men’s Swimmers

Three former or current members of the Niagara University women’s swimming & diving team are suing the school, saying they were sexually harassed by members of the school’s men’s team, and that the coach of both programs didn’t properly address the issue.

The Buffalo News reports that one current member of the women’s team and two former members are plaintiffs in the suit. Nastassja Posso is currently a senior on the team, Jaime Rolf would have been a senior, but quit the team (giving up her scholarship, the Buffalo News story says), and the third plaintiff is an unidentified diver who graduated in 2018. The three say in the suit that they suffered from anxiety and depression based on how they were treated by members of the men’s program.

The three women filed a federal suit through the U.S. District Court in Buffalo. The suit also claims the women’s team was treated unequally in coaching and equipment, a violation of federal law. Specifically, the suit points to a lack of a female coach or athletic trainer on staff.

The women say members of the men’s team ranked the women by physical appearance, made fun of their bodies and gave them hurtful or vulgar nicknames. Per The Buffalo News, one woman was allegedly called a “water buffalo” and another “Princess Thigh Gap.”

The women say their coach, Ben Nigro, didn’t intervene, but rather told the women to ignore the behavior. The lawsuit says Nigro told the women that “boys will be boys,” and that “90% is how you react and 10% is what they do.” The unnamed diver in the lawsuit also says she made a complaint to an assistant athletic director in 2016, when a member of the men’s team allegedly had sex with a female recruit. The lawsuit says Nigro joked about the situation, saying “he must not have been very good, since she is not coming to NU.”

The lawsuit also says the school delayed the process of a formal complaint that was filed last December, allowing some of the male swimmers to graduate before the school decided whether to punish them or not.

We’ve reached out to the school for comment, but have not yet received a response.

Update: the school has provided the following statement:

We are aware of a lawsuit that was recently filed in federal court.

Niagara University’s foremost priority is the well-being of every member of our campus community. We proceed with due diligence to examine any issue that is brought forward that may compromise our culture, while ensuring that we do not rush to judgment or reach conclusions before the completion of the process. Where it is necessary and appropriate, the university engages independent investigators.

To ensure the integrity of the process, and out of respect for every individual involved, we do not comment on ongoing matters.

Niagara’s first meet of the 2019-2020 season, its intrasquad Purple vs. White meet, is scheduled for this Saturday at 9AM.

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(G)olden Bear
1 year ago

Coach Ben will likely soon be “spending more time with his family” or “pursuing other opportunities”.

hookem91
Reply to  (G)olden Bear
1 year ago

He better not let the door hit him on the way out.

volmenusa
1 year ago

Those beasts should be suspended and pursued legally. What is the “boys will be boys mentality”. It all falls under the heading of treating people with respect and love. Sad for the girls. Hopefully the Coach and mean spirited boys will grow from this and respect women moving forward. I too have witnessed the nicknaming of female athletes like “Whale Blubber Skin” and “Trollbutt” such characteristics are so hurtful to those who are called such inappropriate names. Glad SwimSwam reports on tase travesties.

Deuceswild22
1 year ago

I mean it doesn’t feel good to be bullied and I don’t condone their behavior but this happens on just about every team. I played multiple sports in high school and swam in college and the boys will be boys thing has some truth. Some girls probably do the same thing. We’ll never get rid of locker room talk or be able to put a stop to the wild college parties. I don’t agree with some of the coach’s choices in words or his inaction but let’s not be so quick to judge the situation. After all trump was elected with his grab em by the ** remarks. Some kids need thicker skin. It’s usually the sheltered ones that get… Read more »

Swimmer A
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

Orrrr we could apply consequences to actions and all those boys can learn the hard way.

KickingGeek
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

It is NEVER acceptable to be sexually, psychologically or physically harassed.

Never.

Coaches have a massive responsibility to ensure the safety in all those aspects for athletes in their care. NO coach should EVER be using “boys will be boys” or similar to explain away thoroughly unacceptable conduct.

There’s this thing called “good sportsmanship” and another things called “good character”.

No excuses for this sort of conduct. Never has been.

Jeff
Reply to  KickingGeek
1 year ago

It is remarkable in this day in age that someone could use the expression “boys will be boys” and not immediately realize by default they are probably condoning something very bad. It literally is a concession that you have lost.

Swimmer
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

“It’s always happened so it’s always going to happen”… doesn’t feel like a GREAT message…

Xman
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

I think the culture around what is acceptable and is not amongst kids and what their parents will tolerate is different then it was when we were in school. I’d say it’s for the best.

Coach Laura
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

This mentality is why is continues.
As coaches we have a responsibility to let our athletes know what is and isn’t acceptable within our programs. If it happens, don’t let it go. Send the message that it is not acceptable and it will stop. Don’t allow athletes who don’t meet a basic standard of decency be a part of your program. The culture changes if you want it to change.

No one should have to “grow a thicker skin” to avoid feeling demeaned or harassed.

AEW
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

I (a female) swam in college and on coed club teams before that. This is not something that happens on every team, I can assure you. While I may have had personality conflicts with a few teammates here and there, there was never any crude harassment similar to what these 3 women are describing.

anonymoose
Reply to  AEW
1 year ago

definitely agree, i swam for 3 different clubs so far and only the one im in rn is the one where practically no bullying exists. all you need is a couple of bullies (di*kheads) to start the bullying and the rest to allow it/find it amusing, or even worse, when coaches themselves initiate such behaviour.
its not normal even if its very common. its still ugly and a sign of low moral standards

Cathy Silveira
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

I have known (and coached) one of the swimmers and am very proud of her for standing up for herself and her teammates. Nastassja was my high school team captain. She is hardly thin skinned or “sheltered” and has provided leadership that far exceeds your pathetic statement. Her actions will go a long way towards stopping this behavior at NU. And perhaps change it elsewhere. Your comment of “it happens on every team” is an acceptance it. So instead of talking about “culture shock”—-condemn the culture. And I sincerely hope that you never find yourself in the position of being the parent or previous coach of any athlete making a stand. It’s obvious you would fail them.

DJ-JD
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

Deuces — don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees, this is not about if you feel what the boys did was right, wrong or if you think it rises to the level of harassment.

This is a suit about an institution’s alleged failure to respond appropriately to a complaint made by a student athlete regarding alleged harassment by other student athletes.

The facts will be revealed during discovery if this is litigated – BUT at the very least lets not engage in criticizing the girls for complaining when they clearly felt this was serious enough to warrant it. One quit losing the scholarship, and I doubt being involved makes life easy for 2 girls still on the team.… Read more »

do the right thing
Reply to  Deuceswild22
1 year ago

It would seem that if the Title 9 investigation had not taken 10 months, which let all the people involved graduate before the investigator did even file it with the school, so they would have not even have to even have a single consequence to face, maybe this would not have gone this way. The school and investigator, along with this coach seem to want to brush it all under the rug and pretend nothing happened. How disrespectful and how irresponsible. It seems to be the way the Catholic church likes to operate, pretending nothing happens, ignore it, and hope it goes away.

WetCatMom
Reply to  do the right thing
1 year ago

I know of a situation where the swimmer raped a girl, Title XI involved, expelled the swimmer from schools and swimming at another college. I’m sure the female parents and swimmers would like to know about that. I’ve truly lost faith in coaches, the sport, and the athletic system. It is all about winning at any cost!

rainofterror
Reply to  WetCatMom
1 year ago

This post confuses me. The Title IX office kicked a swimmer that raped a girl out of school and you’re mad at them for doing the right thing?

WetCatMom
Reply to  rainofterror
1 year ago

No sorry for the confusion. Swimmer was expelled from a college and is now swimming for another college. I don’t think he should be able to swim for another college. Title 9 did all they could

Jeff
1 year ago

Obviously we don’t have the information, but playing the odds that the recruit was… very possibly under 18? And college swimmer over 18? And now the coach is aware of the situation and joked it off, rather than report anything? That seems potentially problematic. Hopefully that is an investigated element.

In the meantime, wouldn’t advise allowing your daughters to attend a recruiting trip here, that is for sure; at least until these allegations are explored further.

SwimPop
Reply to  Jeff
1 year ago

According to safe sport the age of both student and recruit need to taken into consideration if it was concensual:

“A three-year close-in-age exception will be applied to any policy violation between an adult and a Minor, or between two Minors, where there is no Power Imbalance.”

Guess who just took their safe sport class last week….

Inclusive Parent
Reply to  SwimPop
1 year ago

but. Given that one party was a student at NU and a member of the team, and the younger party was a recruit trying to get an offer from NU… I’d say you have a Power Imbalance and you have a Safe Sport violation without question.

SwimPop
Reply to  Inclusive Parent
1 year ago

One could make the case that the recruit would have reasonably known that the student would have no input on the recruiting status of the recruit. Not sure where the power argument would be based.

Admin
Reply to  Jeff
1 year ago

I believe that you’re insinuating that there was statutory rape involved. The age of consent in New York is 17, not 18. Most high school seniors are already 17. Most of Niagara’s trips are probably from high school seniors. That doesn’t make it unproblematic, but circumstantially it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that the recruit was under the age of 17. I assume that the investigators will probably know the identity of both parties involved and will be able to flag that or rule it out pretty quickly. I’m sure it’s a potential that hasn’t escaped them.

Swimming Fan
1 year ago

“The women say members of the men’s team ranked the women by physical appearance, made fun of their bodies and gave them hurtful or vulgar nicknames. Per The Buffalo News, one woman was allegedly called a “water buffalo” and another “Princess Thigh Gap.”

I’m not condoning the behavior, but just wondering whether the above conduct would fall under the realm of sexual harassment if none of the people involved in the behavior actually communicated their names, rankings, crude comments to the women who they were making fun of. Obviously, they found out, but I wonder if it makes a difference if these were comments just made among the men.

Coach Laura
Reply to  Swimming Fan
1 year ago

100% is never okay. Whether you say it to their face or in a locker room, the culture of a healthy program should never condone disrespectful or inappropriate words.

And in response to an above comment, yes- a vulgar comment about a female’s body is sexual harassment. Not okay in a classroom, in an office or on a pool deck.

Swimming Fan
Reply to  Coach Laura
1 year ago

I think you missed the point. I never said any of it is okay. I’m simply wondering whether the plaintiff can legally prevail on a sexual harassment claim if the offenders never communicated the vulgar statements to the women but only make the statements in private. I have no idea what transpired in this case and I understand that there are different issues of liability in a workplace related to the creation of hostile environments. I’m also not sure that all vulgar comments about a woman’s body by a man rise to the legal standard of sexual harassment, although certainly rude and distasteful.

Swimming Fan
Reply to  Coach Laura
1 year ago

For context, here is how the EEOC describes sexual harassment:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated… Read more »

Frank
1 year ago

The men harassed and bullied their female teammates, but if they did deeper, they are going to find that they also tormented and bullied other male teammates as well. The coach was well aware of these situations and condoned the behavior.

NUSD
1 year ago

This is so one sided. Can’t wait until the homophobic texts with racial slurs from Nasti and the other girls come out so everyone can see their true colors. It’s a federal case so nothing will go unnoticed. This was a break up, andreas wanted a break and nasti said she doesn’t do breaks so he dumped her. She wants revenge and this is how she plans to get it but she’s taking out Ben which is so wrong. He is a light hearted guy and such a fun coach to swim for. Hoping everything gets resolved soon.

Sccoach
Reply to  NUSD
1 year ago

Oh c’mon swimswam comment section. No replies to this post yet? I’m disappointed

yesman
Reply to  NUSD
1 year ago

Why did you only speak on one girl specifically when there are three girls involved and it has been going on longer than just this “break-up revenge”?

yesman
Reply to  NUSD
1 year ago

Sounds like you know her and not in a friendly way…

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  NUSD
1 year ago

Lighthearted, but apparently an idiot if he didn’t know how to address the conduct in this day and age.

WhatisWrongWithPeopleOnHere
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

Yes, lighthearted and lightheaded to boot

Unknown
Reply to  NUSD
1 year ago

Agreed. The behavior isn’t acceptable but as an old member of this team (a female fyi) I know what it was like. They never felt the need to take it to this level until after the break up. Sad that these girls need to ruin our coaches life and potentially the season of all of their teammates because they didn’t get the results they wanted through the schools investigation. Everyone reading and responding to this article knows one side. Like I said I was a member of this team for all 4 of my college years and I know that sexual harassment does not happen on the team.

Unknown
Reply to  Unknown
1 year ago

The school had such a thorough investigation and if something would have been alarming it would have been taken care of. Being on the swim team was the best 4 years of my life and I know plenty other girls who were members of the team who would say the exact same thing.

ACE
Reply to  Unknown
1 year ago

Not sure how they had a thorough investigation when they did not talk to everyone on both the men’s and women’s swim team. The harassment and bullying was happening not only against the women, but also against some of the younger swimmers on the men’s team as well. The culture was toxic and the coach is the ultimate person and school official who should have taken action. The coach also told some of the men’s team swimmers to just ignore the behavior and it will go away. They had a meeting prior to the Zippy Invitational last year where he told the men’s team to stop the behavior, yet it continued and nothing was really done to those individuals nor… Read more »

Unknown
Reply to  ACE
1 year ago

Every member of the team had the opportunity to go to the Title IX coordinator if they felt harassed or bullied in any way. I wish they would have spoke to every single member of the mens and womens team because then this lawsuit wouldn’t even be happening. If the culture was so toxic, you would have heard from several of the team members, not just three. Like I said, I was a member of the team. It was not a toxic culture and I would argue that over and over again.

Amazing to See the Claws Come Out
Reply to  Unknown
1 year ago

There were many. many complaints made, to the coach, to the athletic director and Finally, to title 9 investigator. Still nothing was done, and the investigation still 9 months later has not been completed. That is unreasonable, and allowed students to graduate before any conclusions or determinations were made. These 3 took a positive stand against bullies and a culture that may not have been toxic to you, but to them and the dozens that quit over the past 4 years, it was.

Swim mom
Reply to  Unknown
1 year ago

Real thorough… So much so that now the coach and Title XI Investigator are no longer employed by Niagara now that administration has learned about them.

Amazing to see the claws come out
Reply to  Unknown
1 year ago

They did not get an appropriate investigation, it was not completed and filed until months after most of the bullies graduated, and the complaint was filed with Title 9 in December!. These issues go back years with these bullies, and you know it, and if you don’t admit it, you were one of them! And if you are feeling so bad for the coach and the teammates that are being blamed, you are obviously one of the ones that participated in the bullying or one of the ones that just turned a blind eye and let it happen.

Admin

This comments section has several violators of SwimSwam policy against using multiple usernames in the same comments section. It also has several violators of the “don’t play ‘guess the commenter'” policy. If everyone could please focus on following the rules, it will allow us to keep the conversation happening. Thanks.

Unknown

so because I feel sad for a coach who is a great man in the eyes of many and sad for all of my past teammates who are being affected by this, I was a bully. Sheesh.

derp
1 year ago

imagine being so mad about being on the bottom of a list you file a federal lawsuit over it

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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