Women’s soccer hazing injury sparks suit against Clemson coaches

Siri Mullinix is a distinguished women’s soccer alum — starting goalkeeper for the national team while Briana Scurry struggled, terrific player in the WUSA. Eddie Radwanski has a lower profile, but he’s fondly remembered by those of us who saw him play professionally. He had the misfortune of having his peak years fall in between the NASL’s demise and MLS’s launch, so he carved out a career playing indoor and in the USISL/A-League.

And so the natural first reaction upon seeing that Radwanski, Mullinix and many others at Clemson are being sued for a 2011 hazing incident is along the lines of “Say it ain’t so.”

The lawsuit was filed last month but had not yet hit the local news organizations until today, when a colorful site called FITSNews offered up the lawsuit document itself in PDF form. The Greenville News has now published an early story that doesn’t add many details, but they are trying to reach attorneys.

The first few pages aren’t particularly damning. Plaintiff Haley Hunt claims Radwanski, who took over as Clemson coach after she signed with the program, tried to dissuade her from coming to Clemson and made fun of her for being a good student and a member of the Christian group Young Life.

Then comes the hazing incident, which sounds pretty typical at first: The upperclassmen (all named as defendants) dragged freshman players out of their dorm rooms and tossed them into cars. The freshmen are told to perform “humiliating and demeaning acts” that aren’t further described, then taken to the Tigers’ stadium to run blindfolded and do other “demeaning acts and calisthenics.”

Nothing ridiculous so far, right? But then we get to paragraph 51:

Ms. Hunt complied with the orders to run faster. Unaware of where she was running because of the blindfold, Ms. Hunt veered away from the field and sprinted directly – face first – into a brick wall. The momentum of Ms. Hunt’s collision with the brick wall threw her body backwards, causing her to smash into a nearby table and fall to the ground. The players heard Ms. Hunt scream and observed her clench her bloody face. One player described the sound of Ms. Hunt hitting the brick wall as “metal hitting metal.” The impact with the brick wall caused Ms. Hunt to sustain serious injuries to her brain, head, face, and hands. Ms. Hunt was knocked unconscious and had to be physically assisted by the other players.

Horrifying. And now it gets worse:

A few players took Ms. Hunt to the locker room, where they called the Clemson Coach Defendants. Mullinix arrived on the scene and called Michelle Bensmen, an athletic trainer for the Team. Some of the players expressed their opinions that an ambulance was necessary; however, Mullinix instructed them not to tell anyone what had happened. Ms. Hunt was not taken to a hospital. Instead, she was examined by Bensman, who applied a butterfly bandage to her face and sent her to her dorm room without medical attention or any supervision from the Team staff

Bensmen/Bensman (lawyers can’t spell — “Radwanski” is misspelled on at least one occasion) is not a defendant. According to the suit timeline, Hunt later calls her parents, thinking she needs immediate medical attention. (This all takes place in August, so Hunt may not have had a lot of dormmates and friends at this point.) Her parents call “one or more” or the coaches, and Mullinix goes to check on her and eventually stay with her that night. Then Hunt gets treatment from the team doctors, a neurologist and a plastic surgeon.

At this point, we’re talking about a delay in medical treatment that deserves some follow-up questions. But nothing worse.

Until paragraph 62:

Immediately following the Incident and prior to any investigation into the Incident, the Clemson Coach Defendants called a Team meeting and implored the Team that they must not tell anyone about what happened. Specifically, Radwanski told the players: “if you care about our jobs and our Team, then you will not tell anyone about this. We cannot have anybody finding out about this.”

Now comes a curious part — the team doctors cleared Hunt to play, though she was still in pain and having difficulty reading. Again, doctors and trainers are not named as defendants. If the coaches were following medical advice by letting her play, would the burden here fall on the doctors?

But the focus shifts back to Radwanski.

Following the Incident, Radwanski ignored Ms. Hunt’s serious injuries and continued to belittle Ms. Hunt for her academic achievements and involvement with Young Life. In fact, Radwanski was so reckless with Ms. Hunt’s safety that on one occasion he ordered her to climb a soccer goal to untangle the net, which resulted in the goal tipping over and nearly crushing Ms. Hunt under its weight. Radwanski made jokes about this and the other occasions in which he forced Ms. Hunt to perform dangerous, demeaning tasks.

Hunt’s family contacted the Clemson athletic department, which investigated but decided not to penalize anyone.

Enter the Clemson Office of Community and Ethical Standards for a separate investigation. This all happened quickly: The incident was the evening of Aug. 18; the OCES took a statement Aug. 31. The OCES found that the team had violated several university regulations on “harm to person, hazing, and violations of student organizational conduct.” (Wouldn’t the first one trump the next two?) Players had to go through a workshop and give a PowerPoint presentation on what they had learned.

For a couple of years, Hunt remained with the program. She redshirted in 2011, then played 15 games in 2012, racking up academic honors. She played a couple of games in 2013, but according to the suit, her symptoms got worse, and a neurologist told her to stop playing. She was honored in April 2014 with the Bill D’Andrea Tiger Paw Award for “outstanding commitment and selflessness within the team culture,” sharing that award with Hailey Karg. At the same banquet, Vanessa Laxgang won MVP honors and Morgan Hert took the team leadership award.

Laxgang, Karg and Hert are now co-defendants.

The suit, filed Aug. 15, does not mention a specific dollar amount of compensation. “Plaintiff prays for Judgment against the Defendants individually, jointly, and severally for all actual damages, for an appropriate amount in punitive damages in an amount to be determined by the jury at the trial of this action, those attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by this action, and for such other further relief as the court deems just and proper.”

Could the case be resolved out of court? In the Pickens County court records, the case includes an action for “ADR/Alternative Dispute Resolution (Workflow)” with a start date of March 13, 2015.

(Will update if new info arises in the next couple of days)