Stony Brook University Coaches Dismissed After Athletes Allege Abuse

Following allegations of emotional abuse by members of the women’s swimming and diving team, Stony Brook University has dismissed its coaches. Stony Brook recently reinstated their women’s swim team for the 2017-18 season, naming Olympic swimmer Janelle Atkinson as the women’s head coach. The team had been on competitive hiatus since 2012-13 due to maintenance renovations of the university’s pool. Both Atkinson and assistant Jordan Bowen are no longer listed on Stony Brook’s website.

One of the team’s former swimmers, Arianna Rodriguez, reached out to SwimSwam before the coaches’ dismissal detailing the alleged abuse that led her to leave the teaml. Rodriguez is one of 6 swimmers to have left the Stony Brook program since they started up this fall, with one additional swimmer taking a “hiatus.” Since the beginning of the season, the roster size has dropped from 13 to 6. The alleged emotional abuse of the swimmers included what they described as intense screaming, degradation, and regular use of profanity that became unbearable.

The following is a list of some of the allegations detailed to SwimSwam by Rodriguez, and corroborated by at least one other member of the Stony Brook team:

  • On one occasion, Rodriguez alleges she was told by Atkinson that she was “Pissing her the [explative] off and that she was going to lose her [explative] and it would be scary.”
  • Rodriguez was allegedly told by Atkinson that Rodriguez’s anxiety was due to her own mishandling of being sexually assaulted.
  • Swimmers were allegedly forced to practice when they were physically ill. Rodriguez alleges half the team was forced to practice with the stomach virus, exiting through the side door when they needed to vomit and then being forced to get back in the pool immediately afterwards.
  • Rodriguez alleges she and other team members were ignored when they had physical injuries and were not assisted by the coaching staff. One team member was allegedly locked into the pool deck area after stopping in the middle of practice and being unable to move due to physical injury.
  • Team members were allegedly called into the hallway individually to be yelled at while the team practiced.
  • Rodriguez alleges the team was told daily by Coach Atkinson that they were not good enough nor were they “real D1 athletes.”
  • She alleges that team members’ scholarships and spots on the team were threatened to be taken away on a daily basis.
  • Swimmers were allegedly told that mental illnesses and anxiety were being faked or signified weakness. Rodriguez says that she was forced to swim underwater while having a panic attack.
  • Atkinson allegedly refused to acknowledge Rodriguez’s presence on deck, ignoring her answers to group questions.
  • Atkinson allegedly refused to coach the team one day, telling the team she did not come from the Olympics to coach them.
  • Swimmers were allegedly forbidden to take GPNC courses by Atkinson despite the courses being encouraged by the university.

Rodriguez alleges that the abuse allegations were brought to the attention of the athletic director multiple times and they were told that coach Atkinson would be spoken to. She alleges that, despite numerous personal and group meetings, emails, and phone complaints from parents over a period of 3 months, no changes were made.

Rodriguez says that the university was investigating the complaints at the time of the coaches’ dismissal, but that it is her understanding that the athletics director made the decision to part ways with the coaches before the conclusion of that investigation.

SwimSwam has reached out to Stony Brook and Atkinson, but a request for comment has not yet been answered. None of the athletes that we spoke to made any allegations against the assistant coach Bowen.

Update: shortly after posting, multiple members of the Fairfield team reached out to SwimSwam saying that these accusations aligned with their experiences. We are working with getting more specifics from those swimmers.

Atkinson is a Jamaican National Record holding swimmer who competed at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. She won 3 silver medals at the 1999 Pan Am Games (200, 400, 800 free) and 2 bronze medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games (400 free, 800 free). She has served as an assistant coach at UConn and Wright State and besides Stony Brook, was the head coach of Fairfield University.

The team concluded its regular season on Sunday with a 126-49 loss to New Hampshire. The team was scheduled to compete at the American East Conference Championship meet, but that meet is no longer listed on the team’s schedule. This was the team’s first season of varsity women’s swimming competition since the 2011-2012 season.

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Steve Nolan
3 years ago

comment image

(this sounds bad tho)

David Berkoff
3 years ago

Wow. Not good.

PaSwim1990
Reply to  David Berkoff
3 years ago

Dave how is this any different then Germantown training years ago? Join the discussion

Dan Smith
3 years ago

In light of the continuing MSU and gymnastics tragedy, Larry Nasser, and all the resignations there, you’d think SBU would have done due diligence last year and checked with Fairfield and other places the now former coach held positions. A shame, the student athletes will need a great deal of support, and deserve it. Hope the student athletes come out of this to the good. Needs to be some standards in place for hiring; whatever SBU did wasn’t good enough.

Allison Zelnick
Reply to  Dan Smith
3 years ago

As a swimming alumni of SBU I can’t agree more. The alumni tried very hard to be involved with the hiring process, but in the end, we weren’t. We offered to give advice and help make decisions, but none of that happened.. and I’m pissed Fairfield didn’t state the reason she was fired which allowed her to continue with this emotional abuse on a different team.

Swimmom57
Reply to  Allison Zelnick
3 years ago

And I am guessing U Conn didn’t disclose her leaving their program for Fairfield either…. usually its just to get rid of the person.

beachmouse
Reply to  Dan Smith
3 years ago

Negative references can be tricky because people can and do sue former employers who give them- apparently making it harder for a bad employee to get a subsequent job can sometimes lead to that former employee getting a successful civil settlement against their former employer. A HR person I knew said that the side question they used when verifying references and work history was ‘Is this employee eligible for rehire at your organization?’ and if the answer was ‘No’ is was a giant red flag because, while most of the reference check was constrained by concerns over lawsuits, the rehire question was enough of a grey area that they could get away with an asked-and-answered that could be somewhat negative… Read more »

Dan Smith
Reply to  beachmouse
3 years ago

I agree, but it also works for the most recent current employer if former employer lied, or withheld vital information on the person that helped them get the job. If I, for example, withheld information on my employee’s behavior that got them fired for cause, I (and the entity I work for) are exposed, and could be sued by the second former employer. Honesty is the best policy.

Tripodics
Reply to  Dan Smith
3 years ago

Please don’t conflate overly aggressive training and emotional abuse with the horrible crimes of Larry Nasser!

What the (former) Dr. Nasser did is so vile that comparing it to the yelling and cursing of a coach is like comparing the holocaust to a kid defacing a wall with a swastika, or equating a massacre to a spanking.

anon
Reply to  Tripodics
3 years ago

Here we go again. Failing to recognize and deal with all kinds of abuse is a real problem. Emotional abuse is real and devastating to the victims and their families. People are committing suicide and hurting others because they were emotionally abused. Larry Nasser emotionally abused the parents of these athletes. These parents were not physically abused by Nasser, but the guilt they all feel for trusting and giving this monster access to their children will leave lasting scars. The guilt the older athletes feel for not being able to stop the monster from harming others will leave lasting scars. EMOTIONAL ABUSE is real and can be life altering.

Caeleb Dressel Will Get 7 golds in Tokyo
3 years ago

What happened to proof? Everyone is getting fired because of alleged claims

Katherine Young

I swam for her at Fairfield and we had about 17 people quit including myself within the first couple months of last season. This is the least shocking news I’ve ever seen and I can vouch for Rodriguez’s claims because I’ve lived through every single one of them

Caeleb Dressel Will Get 7 golds in Tokyo
Reply to  Katherine Young
3 years ago

I’m sorry. I only mean that alleged claims should be closer verified. There are cases of innocent people losing their jobs over fake claims.

AMP
Reply to  Katherine Young
3 years ago

As did I. Shocking the coach on deck compared to the coach in the office. Even the best therapy in the world can’t get me back the worst two months of my life

Swimqueen
Reply to  Katherine Young
3 years ago

Wait a minute?! I know what u did that season!!! Check for her results!! There NOT there!!

Katherine
Reply to  Swimqueen
3 years ago

That’s odd because there’s results from a 2016 Fairfield vs Manhattan college meet where I swam with bronchitis under the name Katia but I quit shortly after that.

Aggie Swim Fan

I think Katherine Young’s statements most definitely qualifies the accusations made in the article. The woman has no business coaching “anybody” in anything!! Hoping she never sees a college pool deck again unless it’s as a paying member of the general public & she’s sitting up in the bleachers far away from the pool. To mention her name as a “former coach” slanders that title!!!

samuel huntington
3 years ago

yikes, this sounds really bad

Don Duncan
3 years ago

I am sad to say that this is not the first instance of her “poor behavior”. As you can see in the photo, across her shirt says Fairfield as in Fairfield University, the school she was at prior to Stonybrook. She was dismissed at Fairfield in Feb 2017 when her contract of 3 years was not renewed. There were so many identical incidents and more to which this poor swimmer speaks of that it is now with a light of concern over student athlete allegations due to Nasser that maybe, just maybe schools and USA swimming will do something about this. Too many schools do not want to look bad with investigations and hires, they quietly hope behavior will change… Read more »

Dan Smith
Reply to  Don Duncan
3 years ago

Strongly agree. As former Olympic swimmer, now civil rights attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar, pointed out today in an NPR interview the idea is to get all sports, NCAA, high schools, age group programs, and USOC to introduce consistent standards for coach training, licensing, and protocols for identifying abuse among coaches, volunteers, employees, etc. I’d add sharing data would also be good. Now obvious, based on your knowledge, this is a problem that could have been avoided. Again, I hope the swimmers are ok.

Swimmom
Reply to  Dan Smith
2 years ago

Well they are not ok…not that the university cares. It was all swept under the rug and things are not much better

MBswim
Reply to  Dan Smith
1 year ago

I would agree. I think usa swimming does a good job educating their coaches as the process to get certified is kinda rigorous. High and college swimming is what concerns me.

Aggie Swim Fan
Reply to  Don Duncan
3 years ago

Just feel that she has had more than one chance to “change” & it hasn’t materialized!! Just a shame “the can got kicked down the road” for so long!!

Swimmom57
Reply to  Don Duncan
3 years ago

Plenty of letters, meetings and correspondence from athletes and parents of Fairfield immediately initiated to address the issue. Every instance was deemed not credible…

PDB
3 years ago

Her “Olympic” credentials will continue to get her hired by programs looking for a name and not a guide. Too bad no one realizes that SHE didn’t get herself anywhere, someone else brought those performances out of her. Her ability to develop is obviously lacking. Success is not found through osmosis. Sorry to be the fun spoiler.

Jeff
Reply to  PDB
3 years ago

I’m confused by this take. Have you considered that the coach(es) who “brought those performances out of her” might be who she learned to be a coach from?

Aquajosh
Reply to  Jeff
3 years ago

Have you considered that Gregg Troy has had many of his swimmers go into coaching and none have had these sorts of allegations leveled against them? Mike Joyce is at ASU, Jaime Ellis is the coach that brought Isabel Ivey to prominence, Duncan Sherrard is the assistant coach at UNC, Leah Martindale-Stancil and Anthony Nesty both swam for Troy and now coach at UF. Janelle Atkinson is 14 years removed from that program.

Huh
Reply to  PDB
3 years ago

Whoa, Olympic athletes (and finalists to boot) definitely get themselves somewhere… yes, elite coaching and programs help but to give no credit to the athlete is way off base.

This is more about her beliefs in coaching that are likely far more attributable to her past experiences in being “coached”. Maybe your vitriol should be aimed at that, which by the way, is one of our most nationally celebrated esteemed Olympic coaches; Gregg Troy. This worked for her at the end of the day and likely shapes her views of the role. This is not an excuse but a reality.

Wondering what Chris Desantis will have to say about “the unicorn” now. We’ll never know the whole story… Read more »

Sccoach
Reply to  Huh
3 years ago

There are more allegations than just verbal abuse though. We can debate all day about whether extremely strict coaching is right or wrong, but this seems like it goes beyond that.

Sccoach
Reply to  Sccoach
3 years ago

^^^that post was meant to be in reply to Corey’s post, I replied in the wrong spot

Dan Smith
Reply to  Huh
3 years ago

Questions: you said, ” This worked for her at the end of the day and likely shapes her views of the role.” One might argue coaching methods should work for the athletes one coaches, not “what worked for an individual” Coaching 101. Second, “Maybe your vitriol should be aimed at that, which by the way, is one of our most nationally celebrated esteemed Olympic coaches; Gregg Troy.” I’d opine coaching,like any profession is one of growth and improvement. Somewhere along the line she got the idea the methods she used worked. Obviously those methods did not, yet she persisted with those methods to the detriment of at least two groups of college athletes at DI level and possibly the destruction… Read more »

Huh
Reply to  Dan Smith
3 years ago

❄️

Corey
Reply to  PDB
3 years ago

You obviously don’t know ANYTHING about her if you think “SHE didn’t get herself anywhere”. I would agree PERHAPS “her ability to develop” so called division 1 athletes who can’t break a minute in a 100 free “lacking”. Definitely not the best fit and probably a complete mismatch of expectations.

Swimmom
Reply to  Corey
3 years ago

Firstly not all the athletes could not break the minute in 100 free. Some were actually really good swimmers going places before they were injured and broken down constantly. ..you really don’t know the half of it

Mardo4
Reply to  PDB
3 years ago

A talented athlete does not necessarily gold stamp them to be a talented coach. Unfortunately her Olympic accomplishments greenlighted her. Coaching requires a lot more than technical knowledge and fast times. And her actions are inexcusable.

Sccoach
3 years ago

Gosh this sounds bad, but Larry Nasser comparisons seem quite harsh.

For those of you with inside info, what was she accused of doing at Fairfield?

Sccoach
Reply to  Sccoach
3 years ago

Sorry I saw Katherine’s post after I posted. Sorry you had to deal with that Katherine. Hopefully this ends her coaching career

About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona (2013-2015) and the University of Florida (2011-2013). While her college swimming career left a bit to be desired, her Snapchat chin selfies and hot takes on Twitter do not disappoint. She's also a high school graduate of The …

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