By Daniel Libit
Several outgoing members of the Lobo softball program made “damning” allegations about head coach Erica Beach during last year’s student-athlete exit interviews.
The charges centered around Beach’s racial rhetoric and what was described as her general “unprofessionalism.”
The revelations come in the notes of exit interviews compiled by the Athletic Council, a committee of UNM’s Faculty Senate. NMFishbowl.com previously reported on a more limited release of interview notes, in which some athletes raised concerns about race and gender issues throughout the department and university. In the wake of that, a follow-up public records request was made for a more comprehensive — and less redacted — version of those notes, which UNM provided last week.
You can read the full 21-page release of documents here. NMFishbowl.com has decided to redact the names or identifiers of some staffers, in instances where they have not yet been given a chance to respond to allegations or criticisms made against them in the notes.
The most inflammatory comments targeted Beach, who is in her seventh season at UNM. Beach did not respond to numerous phone and email messages seeking comment for this story. Athletic Director Paul Krebs and two UNM Athletic Department spokespeople also did not respond to multiple inquiries over the past several days.
The Athletic Council’s notes describe the players’ criticisms of Beach as “damning.” Among other issues, players accused Beach of violating their confidentiality and of retaliating against those who brought up issues related to racial or cultural sensitivities.
“Don’t be too black,” was the message some players took away from their experience on the team.
“When issues of race came up they were turned back on the player [who] raised the issue — consistently,” the exit-interview notes stated. Additionally, players said the team’s assistant coaches were “allowed to disrespect players.”
Beach, a former All-American player at Arizona State University, was hired as the Lobos’ head coach in 2010, after serving as an assistant at Ohio State. Her team finished 23-27 last season, its third losing campaign in the last four years. The Lobo softball program begins its 2017 season on Feb. 10, at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
While Beach was perhaps the most harshly criticized UNM coach in the exit-interview material, she wasn’t the only one to receive negative reviews. As was previously reported, former football players raised several complaints about head coach Bob Davie’s cold and impersonal conduct behind closed doors.
A few accolades were also sprinkled amidst the coaching commentaries. The Lobo women’s soccer coach, Heather Dyche, was praised for her “open” process and her “respect” for player input. There was also love for former women’s basketball coach Yvonne Sanchez, who was fired last March. Her players reported they had a “great relationship” with her, and they valued that she was “very focused on academics.”
In response to our second public records request, NMFishbowl.com also received notes from a fifth 2016 exit-interview session. This new material amplified a few of the athlete complaints on matters related to the inequitable treatment of women, insufficient injury support, and the significantly lesser status of UNM’s “Olympic” sports.
In the strongest terms yet, UNM female athletes told the council that they have to sometimes relinquish already-scheduled training times to male athletes; must demonstrate a deferential demeanor towards their male counterparts; and, most important of all, have to keep their mouths shut when male jocks materialize.
“Women have to know their place,” according to one summarized statement. “Women have to be quiet when men come in,” reported another. “If there are men in the gym,” said a third note, “even when it is (the) women’s time slot, the women have to leave.”
Lobo athletes also observed that unequal treatment of men and women in the retention decisions the school made last season with its two basketball coaches. “Why fire the women’s coach and not (the) men’s?,” one former athlete wondered aloud.
Injury issues were also revisited in the latest version of interview notes. In earlier documents, some UNM athletes reported they took personal financial hits for knee surgeries and concussion examinations. In this summary, other athletes discussed coaches’ inattention to illness and the indifference of UNM trainers.
“Girls got mono–made them run,” said one note. “Practiced while 10 (athletes) had strep throat at the same time,” read another. “Trainers often downplayed injuries, even when players said there (was) something (wrong),” noted a third.
UNM issued only a general statement when NMFishbowl.com first inquired into a series of athlete allegations and criticisms, addressed in the notes, which ranged from charges of academic fraud to systemic fat-shaming of female participants. Subsequently, Frank Mercogliano, UNM’s Assistant Athletics Director of Communications, went on a Lobo fan-site message board to correct a charge that the department had failed to fete the women’s cross-country team for their 2015 National Championship — a strikingly small-bore matter to accost, given all the other issues addressed.
Since NMFishbowl.com’s first report on the exit interviews, Krebs has issued instructions to his staff not to speak to this reporter, and has had conversations with UNM lawyers and the Athletic Council about the release of the documents. Athletic Council chairman Finnie Coleman, an associate professor in UNM’s English department, did not respond to requests to comment for this story.
(Lead photo image courtesy of ABQ Free Press)