On Saturday, Kevin Hadsell, the former director of the University of Toledo's track and cross country programs, sat down with a local news station for his first interview since our story about his departure amid sexual harassment claims. He was by turns defiant and penitent. He cried some, too, as he told WNWO's Will Kunkel, "I'm an idiot for a lot of things here … but these things don't add up to me being a monster." He added:
I didn't create a situation where people couldn't complain about me because I was calling them fat and telling them not to go on birth control, because I wasn't calling people fat and telling them not to go on birth control, you know what I'm saying? I wasn't telling people that they were worthless. I wasn't sexually harassing anybody. I wasn't doing those things.
Our initial story, you might remember, covered a variety of allegations made by former runners about Hadsell's behavior. One runner said he sent sexually suggestive text messages and had a long-term physical relationship with another member of the team. Another said he pressured runners not to use birth control. Others recalled his drunk-driving the team van. All of the runners we spoke with portrayed him as a charismatic coach with loose to nonexistent boundaries.
Hadsell's interview—which aired in three segments on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday—elicited a strong reaction among the people we talked to for our initial story. One source, whose accusations Hadsell strongly and specifically denied, said Hadsell was lying and allowed Deadspin to publicly release her name (more on that in a bit).
We also talked to more former runners, one of whom said she had received "inappropriate texts" from Hadsell during her freshman year.
Among Toledo administrators, only Larry Burns, the school's vice president for external affairs, would speak with us. He told us the school would not have released any information about Hadsell's resignation had news outlets not reported on the circumstances of the departure.
"It was an H.R. issue and it would have been handled in an appropriate fashion, but not a public fashion," Burns said. When asked what that meant, he said, "That means that all policies would be followed, students or faculty or staff involved would have been dealt with, brought up to speed or talked to, but it would not have been made a public activity."
We've asked our sources to respond to his specific denials.
Our story's claim: Much of the original story focused on the "flirty and the frankly sexual" (our words) text messages sent by Hadsell to the former runner we referred to as Andrea, who wound up turning him in. It was Andrea's allegations, specifically, that led to Hadsell's departure from Toledo.
Hadsell's response: "She initiated those conversations," Hadsell told the Toledo Blade, the unofficial publicity arm of the University of Toledo, in a claim that went unchallenged despite our posting screenshots of text-message conversations that Hadsell had initiated. "I wasn't just having those conversations out of the blue." (For an idea of how the Blade has framed the story, here's a tweet from reporter Ryan Autullo: "Hadsell tweet: We've learned he boozed, had relationships with coeds, and was great at his job. #mostguyswouldkillforthat.")
In his interview with Kunkel, Hadsell said he took responsibility for his "unprofessional" behavior at Toledo and agreed he should have been fired and that he shouldn't have sent those text messages. But he denied that what he did constituted sexual harassment, and he implied that the runner who turned him in was not providing a full picture. Asked by Kunkel how he would respond to his former runners, Hadsell says in part (emphasis ours):
I'm genuinely sorry that all of this has happened and hopefully some day, many of [his former runners], if they want to know the whole story or whatever it is, then they'll reach out to me, you know what I mean? I'm sorry for the people that I've hurt. I'm even sorry that all of this is happening right now as it revolves around the person that started this human resources investigation, you know what I mean? No one wins in all this, you know? No one wins. No one ends up looking good in any of this, and it wouldn't have happened if I would have just not let any of this happen in the first place. Like even that person, people that are trying to defend me just as a human being, not necessarily defend my actions, some of them are saying terrible things about her. That's ridiculous, you know what I mean? She did what she did, she's got her reasons for doing it, her and I both know the truth.
Kunkel asks, "What is the truth?"
The truth is she knows I wasn't harassing her. She knows that. You can never undo those headlines, so I don't know what I'm going to do. I know that I'm genuinely sorry, I know that I was wrong, I created all of this. None of this stuff should have happened.
In unaired segment of the interview, Hadsell says the Deadspin story was the first time anyone had brought up possible sexual harassment:
The thing is, at first when it all happened in human resources, the one thing people don't understand is until the Deadspin article, no one had ever said anything about sexual harassment. It's literally never been brought up to me. It's never been brought up to me in human resources, it was never brought up to me by anyone. No one even said the word sexual harassment. … And then when the Deadspin article came out, and there's this huge allegation of sexual harassment and then a laundry list of allegations and I was literally devastated because some of those allegations, that's why I was in human resources.
So at this point I'm thinking maybe I'm not going to get fired, but obviously I've screwed up here and I've admitted that I've screwed up. And then he pulls out this stack of texts, and he puts the first one in front of me, and it was like f-this, f-that, you know, the conversation was clearly not a conversation that I should have been having. I literally looked at that first page and he said, "Is that you?" and I was like, "Yeah, man, that's me." What I said was, this isn't a full conversation because this doesn't flow like a conversation that I would have, so my guess is that there are texts that are missing from this, to make it look worse than it is. But whether it looks worse than it really is, it's me saying this stuff and I shouldn't be having that conversation."
Response from sources: Andrea told us for our initial story that "he had basically been sexually harassing me for years, and that was the main issue about why he resigned." She said the text messages he sent her were "way over the top." She went to Kelly Andrews, a senior associate athletic director at Toledo, and "told her everything." What exactly the university told Hadsell about why he was being investigated with regards to sexual harassment is unknown. Under Toledo's official policy, sexual harassment includes "unwelcome remarks speculating about a person's sexual activities or sexual history, or remarks about one's own sexual activities or sexual history" and "unwelcome sexual propositions, invitations, solicitations, and flirtations." (The NCAA has a similar, athletics-specific definition of sexual harassment.)
You can read the text messages again below. In them, Hadsell asks Andrea if she's "into him," telling her "I'm into you." He tells her he would "hook up" with Caitlin "if she wasn't psycho," adding "it may be a good ride. Just sayin." (When he wrote this, he had apparently already begun a physical relationship with Caitlin.) In another, unpublished text message, Hadsell asks Andrea, "you want to have drinks and make some mistakes?"
We spoke with a runner, one who's slightly older than Andrea. She said Hadsell's text messages were not limited to just the one athlete.
"My freshman year, he used to send me inappropriate texts as well," she told me on iMessage. "I just remember him texting me during a football game when we were selling 50/50 tickets and saying that he wanted to have a competition with me to see who could sell more. So I was a freshman and wanted my coach to like me so I agreed. Well, he ended up winning and said that I owed him something. I just brushed it off and he kept saying things about wishing that he was 10 years younger."
She believes Hadsell was "testing the waters, to see how I would respond" to the flirtatious texts. Those texts stopped, she said, when she began dating someone later her freshman year.
"It just made me so upset to see him lying on television," she said. "I think he can be a great guy, he's very funny, and he was someone that you wanted to make proud. I think he's just a single 42-year-old whose job is to be around young girls that are fit and looking for attention being that they just graduated from high school and do not have their parents around to show them that kind of attention anymore.
"However," she added, "it doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean that he can lie about his actions."
Our story's claim: Hadsell was in a long-term physical relationship with a runner we called Caitlin.
Hadsell's response: In the WNWO interview, Hadsell says he refused to become involved with a runner, presumably referring to the Caitlin of our story.
Maybe about a year ago, she had indicated to me basically through texts that, like, she would be interested in it becoming more than just, you know, coach-athlete, and would like to become closer and this kind of stuff. and I told her, literally, it's not going to happen. It can't happen. I already lived that life. And it's wrong. Literally, it's not right for you. It's unfair to you, because that lifestyle—you don't want to live that lifestyle. I know what it did to the person I was with before, and it's horrible. ... I was like, "You can text me all you want, but i'm not going to call you, don't ever e-mail me, never going to do anything, so you need to date other people. You need to live your life, you know what I mean? If maybe one time after you graduate, if we hang out, then we hang out."
He adds that "we never did anything" and "there's absolutely no indication there was ever a relationship at all."
Response from sources: In our initial story, multiple sources—among them a friend of Caitlin—confirmed the relationship. Andrea also told us Caitlin had copped to the relationship in her meeting with investigators, though that doesn't square with what Hadsell says above.
Our story's claim: A runner who'd sustained multiple stress fractures wanted to quit the team to focus on school and avoid further injury. Hadsell told her, among other things, that nobody loved her, that her parents were bad people, that he was her father figure, that her former boyfriends never loved her, and that she was not loved outside of the team. After she'd begun to cry, Hadsell said that he'd planned to kick her off the team, but "the big guy upstairs" told him to give her another chance.
Hadsell's response: In the second video clip above, Hadsell strongly denies that meeting ever happened:
Come on, man. That story is so far-fetched, I don't even know how anybody could ever believe that story. Anybody that has ever been coached by me, anybody that even knows me as a human being, would know I would never say something like that to somebody. I mean, I might be an idiot, texting people I shouldn't text. I might be an idiot because I screwed up and had a relationship. I'm an idiot for a lot of stuff, you know what I mean? But shockingly, there are glimmers of me doing the right thing.
One of the right things I always did, is, if I'm going to have a conversation with one of the women on my team, always, my female assistant coach is always sitting there, always. One thing I have on my side in these situations is the truth, a of all, and there are people you can go to to back up what I'm saying, there's no way that conversation ever happened. It never happened. If it did happen it would have happened in front of my assistant coach, and there's no way my assistant coaches at any time would be like, "I think it's a good idea for you to have that conversation with her."
It's believable to people who don't know me, because of how I act, because of my language, because of my mistakes in the past, it becomes believable, you know what I'm saying. I created the whole thing, by screwing up—if I never would have screwed up, if I just would have been more professional then none of this would even happen.
Response from sources: Our source for this anecdote was former runner Sierra Smith, who agreed to let us use her name after seeing Hadsell's interview, which she called "upsetting" and "disheartening." The meeting she describes was in fall 2007. No assistant coach was present, Smith tells us.
"She wasn't there," she said of the female assistant coach at the time. "I think she was coming into the office when I was leaving that day and I just kind of looked at her and kept going."
Deadspin also contacted a former female assistant coach who worked under Hadsell for several years and asked her if she ever sat in on private meetings with Hadsell and a female runner.
"That's a lie," she said. "One hundred percent, without a doubt. I never met with anybody on the team with him."
Another former runner who enrolled at Toledo after Smith had graduated said Hadsell was lying. "That is definitely so false," she said. "He would meet with us one-on-one multiple times, and he wouldn't let the assistant talk to us."
Our story's claim: Kevin Hadsell openly mocked female runners on other teams for having "muffin-tops." He also pressured his female runners to avoid taking birth control because of the potential for weight gain.
Hadsell's response: In the first video clip, an emotional Hadsell says, "I'm an idiot for a lot of things here," but not for making women self-conscious about their weight or pressuring them not to take birth control:
People didn't come forward with this kind of crazy stuff here in the Deadspin article because those things weren't happening. They weren't happening. I didn't create a situation where people couldn't complain about me because I was calling them fat and telling them not to go on birth control, because I wasn't calling them fat and telling them not to go on birth control, you know what I'm saying?
In an unaired segment of the interview uploaded to YouTube, Hadsell says, "I never told someone they were fat, ever." Kunkel asks if he ever said a girl on an opposing team had a "muffin-top":
I don't really use the term "muffin top," OK? That's a term the kids use amongst themselves, OK? I will at times—we'll be at meets, I've explained this to other people and people know what I'm talking about, we'll be at meets and there will be somebody who has an atypical body type that's doing really well, you know what I'm saying? And I will point out that it's amazing that that person is running that fast with either being bigger or bigger built or whatever it is. This is for guys and women. … So I point it out because any of my trainers, any of my team doctors will tell you that I'm the first line of defense when it comes to eating disorders and that I try to educate everybody on making good decisions.
Response from sources: We asked the source of the quote to respond to Hadsell's denial. She stands by her comments that he would make insulting remarks about opposing runners (including the term "muffin-top"), and she adds that he would take jabs at her about her weight, despite knowing she'd had issues with an eating disorder.
"He told me, 'It's not like you're fat, but you you have this baby fat you need to trim down on,'" she said after watching the interview. "He knew I had issues prior to coming to Toledo, and he still told me I need to trim down on my baby fat. I couldn't believe he would tell me that after knowing my history."
She also said she had been a part of several team meetings "where he would specifically talk about us not going on birth control."
We also asked the former female assistant coach—who does not know the source mentioned above—about Hadsell's comments. Regarding the term "muffin-tops," she said, "For sure he said that."
"But I would defend him in that situation because he didn't say it about his own team," she said, explaining that many coaches regularly insult the other team to fire up their runners. "Especially for females, he'd go after what they looked like."
When the assistant was at Toledo, she said, Hadsell regularly took the team out for ice cream after meets and probably could have done more to make sure the team was more fit.
We also spoke with another former runner who was not involved with our first story. The runner had watched Hadsell's interview, and she said that "muffin-top" was definitely part of the Hadsell lexicon.
"I gained some weight in college and I guess behind my back he used to call me a 'muffin-top,'" said the runner, who added that she'd found out from a teammate. "That actually really hurt my feelings."
Our story's claim: Runners reported smelling alcohol on Hadsell during practices. There were at least two instances in which Hadsell drove the team van while drunk, once in New York City in fall 2008 and again last fall during a trip to Wisconsin.
Hadsell's response: In the first interview clip, Hadsell says he spoke with a Toledo human resources investigator last month and admitted to drinking during practice and to driving the team van after drinking (but not while drunk, he says).
Who puts themselves into this position I'm in? I never should have drank during practice, regardless of it was only a couple times and it was at 7:30 at night, it doesn't matter, it should never have happened. So at the time, I'm trying to justify it, you know what I mean? When they're asking about the drunk driving thing, it was like, no, I was never drunk. No one on my team has ever seen me drunk, ever. But what the hell am I doing even having a couple drinks before I'm driving the van. Like, you're an idiot.
In the second clip, Kunkel asks Hadsell if he would have stopped his behavior had he not been turned in:
I think that certain things probably would have continued. This is why I should have been fired. Like the drinking at practice, you know, with the plastic cup, you know, I think I always would have justified it because it's at night, nobody cares.
Response from source: "It's hilarious that he said his athletes have never seen him drunk," said one source, a runner from recent years who spoke with Deadspin for the first story. "I was talking with all of my friends who ran, and they were like, 'I can't believe he said that.' We've seen him drunk so many times."
What's in store for Hadsell now? The coach did not respond to several requests for comment, both before and after our initial story, but Hadsell told Kunkel that's he has to find some way "to make this into a positive."
I have to. I'm only 42. I mean, what am I going to do? Sit around for the next 60 years and do nothing, and just dream about the days when I was coaching? Maybe I can be a valuable resource on what not to do. Maybe my penance is that I need to go out, and I need to be an advocate for people to be more professional, and try to help other people avoid getting themselves into this position. Talked to a young coach who was getting into coaching, you know what I'm saying? Somebody wanted to know how I could be really good, how could I build a program like you had at Toledo, but not screw it up and get fired and ruin it? I think that would be my advice: you've got to establish boundaries and you've got to stick to them.