By Daniel Libit
Katie Hnida, who booted NCAA gender barriers as a placekicker for the University of New Mexico, has joined the community of concerned voices questioning the “moral character” of Lobo football under head coach Bob Davie.
Last month, Hnida told a top UNM athletic administrator about misgivings she had during a sexual assault awareness presentation she gave to the Lobo football team in 2015, in which she said Davie behaved dismissively.
After NMFishbowl.com obtained emails of school officials discussing the concerns Hnida raised, she agreed to address them on-the-record. Hnida said that she hopes UNM will continue to investigate a number of the still-unresolved allegations leveled against Davie, particularly those that deal with his handling of sexual and domestic assault cases involving Lobo football players.
“I care very much about the moral character of our school. I would rather have a (football) team that would go 0-10, with upstanding citizens — players, coaches and an athletic department that do things the right way,” Hnida said this week. “Obviously, from my experience at (the University of Colorado), I know what it’s like when things are done the wrong way and I don’t want anybody to go through that again. And I imagine any true Lobo fan would want us to do things the right way.”
A beloved UNM alumnus, Hnida brought national attention to the Lobos when, in 2003, she became the first woman to score a point in an FBS Division I game. A year later, Hnida went public with her story about being raped by a football teammate while a walk-on at Colorado, prompting a bitterly sexist response from her former coach, Gary Barnett.
By contrast, Hnida has extolled her two years in Albuquerque and the positive relationships she built with former UNM coach Rocky Long and her teammates. “I will carry the lessons Lobo football taught me through the rest of my life,” Hnida wrote in the Acknowledgment section of her 2006 autobiography, “Still Kicking.” In 2016, a sports industry publication named Hnida one of the 30 most influential women in collegiate athletics, a laurel UNM proudly touted in a school press release.
“When I was at UNM, we had an incredibly upstanding program that was led by men with moral integrity,” Hnida told NMFishbowl.com. “I always want it to be that way. I want people to speak up.”
Hnida said that in recent months, she has spoken with a number of UNM contacts about the allegations surrounding Davie, which spawned three separate internal investigations over the past year. Last month, Davie was suspended without pay for 30 days for what was characterized as violations of school policy and procedures.
Hnida says that she believes there are still more stones to be overturned.
“I have talked to other coaches, training and medical staff, media relations people, university officials, players from the football team as well as on other university teams, and women at the university,” Hnida said. “I have done my due diligence, enough to be worried about this.”
In his suspension letter to Davie, former interim President Chaouki Abdallah specifically cited an incident in which the coach had failed to inform OEO of a sexual assault allegation against one of his players. The player has never been publicly identified by UNM, but NMFishbowl.com has determined him to be Nias Martin, who was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend in 2016.
Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose, a Chicago law firm contracted by UNM to investigate Davie, reported that several witnesses claimed the coach had encouraged his players during a team meeting to “get some dirt” on the Martin accuser. Davie has strenuously denied the allegation and Hogan Marren found nothing to substantiate the claim in the course of its investigation.
Davie did not respond Wednesday to multiple requests seeking comment about Hnida’s observations. His attorney has petitioned UNM on four separate occasions to overturn the suspension, which ended March 18, arguing that the punishment was unfounded and the process violated Davie’s employee rights.
As NMFishbowl.com previously reported, the Martin case, which was never prosecuted at the time, now appears to be a subject of interest for the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. Reached by phone earlier this month, Martin declined to address the allegations against him, but said Davie never tried to seek dirt on his accuser.
Hnida said her recent reach-out to UNM was initially spurred by a call she had received from a university employee, advocating on behalf of the Martin accuser. Hnida wouldn’t identify who the employee was.
Since graduating 14 years ago from UNM, Hnida has made her life’s work as a sexual assault victim’s advocate, speaking about the subject on discussion panels, in national media outlets, and at college campuses across the country. But even as the #MeToo movement has ascended, Hnida’s own public efforts have been curtailed recently on account of her health: she was diagnosed two years ago with a benign brain tumor.
In 2014, Hnida addressed UNM junior and senior athletes as the main speaker for the annual Lobo Leadership Institute. During that same trip to Albuquerque, Hnida said, she initiated a one-on-one conversation with Davie about a domestic battery case involving starting offensive lineman Jamal Price. Price was charged with breaking and entering into the apartment of his then-girlfriend, Lobo women’s basketball player Khadijah Shumpert. Davie initially suspended Price upon his arrest, but reinstated him prior to the season once the District Attorney granted Price probation.
The following year, in 2015, Hnida returned to UNM to conduct sexual assault awareness seminars for all Lobo athletes, which included a separate presentation for the football team. It was in this forum, Hnida told UNM Deputy Athletic Director Janice Ruggiero last month, that her interaction with Davie left her feeling distressed.
Hnida recalled that after Garrett Adcock, then a Lobo offensive lineman, asked a thoughtful question about her presentation, football operations director Brian DeSpain gestured at her to end the session. (Adcock, currently UNM’s Student Regent, wrote an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal last month in support of Davie. Adcock did not address the coach’s handling of sexual assault allegations in the piece.)
Hnida said that Davie had initially allotted only 20 minutes for her to speak in 2015, and that she had to prevail upon him to get the full hour she typically takes. During the Q&A session at the end of the presentation, Hnida said Adcock asked “a very pertinent question” about the difference between implicit and complicit consent in a sexual relationship.
“I started to explain it and ended up getting the cut-off sign from Brian DeSpain,” Hnida said. “And Davie came up and said [to the players], ‘We have to thank Katie,’ but ignored me…He said the players had been there since 7 a.m., kind of giving a dig at me for such a long presentation. Numerous players came up to me after, but I had to get out of there, because I was that upset at what had happened.”
Neither Adcock nor DeSpain responded to requests for comment. Without prompting, a former player who was in attendance, relayed a consistent version of how Hnida’s presentation came to a close.
Hnida said she then expressed to several UNM staffers her sense that Davie’s curt reaction seemed to indicate that he was not taking the issue seriously enough. NMFishbowl.com spoke to one former Lobo staffer who confirmed hearing about it from Hnida at the time.
The training session occurred against a backdrop of national scrutiny for UNM, when the athletic department should have been increasingly attentive to sexual assault concerns. A year before, two star football players, SaQwan Edwards and Crusoe Gongbay, were arrested for allegedly assaulting a female student; neither player was ultimately charged. Meanwhile, throughout 2015, the school was under a Department of Justice review of its sexual assault reporting procedures, after numerous students had made complaints.
Hnida said that she has not spoken to Davie since that 2015 meeting, but their last encounter has grown all the more vexing in the wake of the recent controversy surrounding the coach.
Hnida says she hopes that Adcock will use his platform at the university in a way that empowers sexual assault victims.
“I have found him to be exceptionally thoughtful about sexual assault, whenever we have spoken about it,” Hnida said. “With his knowledge and sensitivity to the issues, I hope he will speak about them.”
Emails obtained by NMFishbowl.com show that her phone call with Ruggiero last month triggered an immediate interdepartmental discussion among university officials about how to address Hnida’s concerns. In one email, UNM’s Title IX Coordinator Heather Cowan, attempted to memorialize Ruggiero’s re-telling of what Hnida had confided. Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez is copied on several of the emails. He did not respond to a request for comment.
(Featured Image via @KatieHnida)