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Grand Canyon University Women's Soccer Players Accuse Coaches Of Abuse

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Earlier this month, seven women on Grand Canyon University's soccer team came forward with allegations of verbal, mental and physical abuse against the team's coaches. The players sent a letter to the university demanding the removal of the head coach, Derek Leader, and associate head coach, Malorie Rutledge. They also wanted an independent investigation. At the time, GCU denied the accusations, saying its own internal investigation found overwhelming support for the team and the coaching staff. But now more women from the team have come forward to support allegations of abuse. With us this morning is the Arizona Republic's Anne Ryman. Anne, Good morning.

ANNE RYMAN: Good morning.

GOLDSTEIN: So let's break down some of the timeline of this. When are we talking about and how many students to this point have complained?

RYMAN: There are 12 total now. There were five more that have come forward, both current and former players, and the allegations are very similar to what the first group complained were the verbal, mental and physical abuse.

GOLDSTEIN: Were there any specifics when it came to this kind of abuse?

RYMAN: The one that keeps coming up again and again that people refer to was an incident that happened in August of 2016, where the team came back from a six-hour trip from California. And according to the women, the head coach was upset that they had lost a pre-season match there. And immediately after getting off the bus, ordered them to run in triple-degree temperatures for two miles. They had to do running, lunges and squats, and it was to the point where some of the girls were throwing up and at least one passed out and had to be revived in an ice bath.

LAUREN GILGER: Wow. So, Anne, tell us a little bit about what, has this changed things? Up to 12 people now joining this group of people who are alleging these things — what's GCU saying now? Has it changed?

RYMAN: Their latest response has been that, you know, they did conduct an internal investigation into the claims in the fall, and they interviewed current players and the overwhelming majority of the current players believe it's a positive environment and they support the coaches.

GOLDSTEIN: Now GCU has claimed that at least one of the athletes had asked for some kind of compensation coming out of this. Does that change anything? Is there any evidence of that?

RYMAN: There was an e-mail that one of the fathers had sent to the university where he talked about a number of concerns and in the e-mail there was a reference to $125,000. He has since said that it's not about the money. He is in this to build awareness and that he really wants people to know what's happened here and to prevent it from happening to someone else.

GILGER: But they're still seeking for these coaches to be removed, right?

RYMAN: They are. They would like the coaches to be removed and they are very adamant that they would like an independent investigation. One of their concerns is that, you know, none of the women who had filed complaints in November with the university, the university was aware of this, and none of those women were interviewed in person or by phone, you know, about any of the allegations. So they really believe it's important to interview, not only that the current players, but, you know, the ones in the past as well.

GOLDSTEIN: And I don't know if you got a chance to dig in on Derek Leader's career — where he was before, if he had any allegations against him some someplace else?

RYMAN: He was at Georgia State before and Southern Methodist University. Georgia State has said there's, you know, no complaints at all. They said when he took the job at GCU it was definitely considered a step up for him. GCU is known for having much better soccer facilities than where he was previously. He also was at IMG, which is a soccer facility —

GOLDSTEIN: Academy sort of thing.

RYMAN: Academy in Florida. They said they had no complaints during the time he was there. SMU, just by policy, for any employee, they won't confirm or deny anything but that's just their policy is in general, they won't talk about, you know, backgrounds for employees.

GILGER: So briefly, Anne, where do you see this going next? Do you think this is over at this point?

RYMAN: These women are still asking for, you know, an independent investigation. And they really do want the university to look further into their claims and to have, you know, an outside source look at it.

GOLDSTEIN: We'll continue following your reporting. That's Anne Ryman at the Arizona Republic. Thanks as always.

RYMAN: Thank you.

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Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.