Butler women's soccer players sue school for alleged sexual assault by team athletic trainer
Content warning: This section contains mention of sexual assault, harassment, intimidation, stalking, and hazing.
The GIST: On Wednesday, three current and former Butler University women’s soccer players filed lawsuits against the team’s former athletic trainer, Michael Howell, alleging years of sexual assault and harassment. Horrifying.
The allegations: Along with sexual abuse, Howell’s accused of intimidation, manipulation, and creating a controlling environment in the training room, as well as stalking and inappropriately photographing and videoing athletes. At least six women have come forward to corroborate the claims.
- Players formally reported Howell, who began working at Butler in 2012, to the university on September 28th, 2021, but the school didn’t suspend him until October 6th, 2021. An investigation and hearing followed, and Howell was finally fired in 2022.
The lawsuits: In addition to Howell, the three suits name the university and Ralph Reiff, a senior AD official overseeing student-athlete well-being, as defendants. The complaints allege a failure of policy and a lack of supervision that allowed Howell’s abuse to occur.
- While co–head coaches Robert Alman and Tari St. John aren’t named defendants, the suits suggest Alman’s close relationship with Howell deterred players from reporting. The coaches also allegedly knew that Howell treated players in his private hotel room, against protocol.
Zooming out: This is yet another infuriating instance of student-athlete abuse at the hands of those charged with their well-being. It also parallels the ongoing implosion at Northwestern (and potentially, Minnesota), as hazing and toxic culture create additional horrific headlines. Institutions’ attempts to address abuses have clearly fallen short. When will they finally protect these players?