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 team. 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.