Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Athletes' Voices Help Dismantle Abusive Culture at Texas Tech

Marlene Stollings
Marlene Stollings
Photo: AP

Texas Tech fired head women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings on Thursday after USA Today reported a culture of abuse and toxicity in the program.

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The allegations included sexual misconduct claims made against the former strength and conditioning coach, players being ridiculed and threatened by coaches, a player being reprimanded for showing symptoms of depression, and Stollings utilizing heart rate monitors like a “torture mechanism.”

While it may seem like Stollings received her retribution for the dangerous environment she allegedly created, simply looking at the university’s decision to fire her on Thursday doesn’t tell the full story.

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If it wasn’t for the players who used their power and exposed this environment to the press, Stollings would more than likely still be employed as head coach.

The USA Today report clearly shows that Texas Tech was aware of problems within the women’s basketball program under Stollings and chose to stick by her as head coach. Since Stollings started her tenure at Texas Tech in 2018, season-ending exit interviews from multiple players detailed an abusive culture.

Over half of Stollings players during that time decided to leave the program. This number includes seven players who were recruited either directly or indirectly by Stollings.

Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt
Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt
Photo: Getty
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Texas Tech formed a committee to review the players’ allegations. According to Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt, this committee investigated the sexual misconduct claims made against strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella, who denied the allegations and resigned from his position in March. The committee also was created to look into other alleged problems facing the program, but the university decided to basically ignore their players’ concerns and side with the new coach who had doubled the team’s win total from the previous season in 2018-19.

“Based on information received we conducted an in-depth program review of our women’s basketball program,” Hocutt said in a statement to USA Today. “I have thoroughly discussed this review with coach Stollings and am confident that we are taking appropriate steps to improve the relationship and communication between coaches and student-athletes so that we can continue to grow the success of our program both on and off the court.”

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So what happened between the time the university conducted the review and now?

What made Hocutt do a complete 180 in his stance on this issue?

The answer is simple: Players taking their stories to the media.

Penalizing players for not using 90 percent of their heart capacity at all times, downplaying symptoms of depression, calling players “fat pig,” and having a coach on staff who was accused of sexual misconduct seems to be enough of a firestorm to let someone go.

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What makes it even worse is that the players tried to alert university officials about these forms of alleged abuse under Stollings. Some players say that when they contacted Title IX officials, the practices following were usually harder and included Stollings calling them mentally weak.

One player literally called Stollings “evil and manipulative” and another said Stollings program was full of “manipulation and psychological stress.”

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In the report, 10 players decided to speak out against Stollings, all of whom had made their complaints about the program known before going to the media. While both their claims and some of their former teammates’ claims seemed to have been taken lightly, the negative press the university will receive from this story will not be.

Before Hocutt released the statement confirming Stollings firing, he texted with a few members of the women’s basketball team.

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“Good evening, I have really appreciated your trust in our conversation these past two days. I wanted to let y’all know we have decided to terminate Marlene as our head coach. We will be putting out a statement about it tonight. I will set up a Zoom call for us tomorrow to touch base. Kirby”

“There is nothing more important to Texas Tech and me personally than the experience of our student-athletes,” Hocutt said in another statement earlier this week. “We will continue our conversation tomorrow to work through concerns about our program as we seek a path forward to make sure we are providing an environment to educate, serve and grow our student-athletes.”

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These women who played under Stollings should be applauded for refusing to tolerate a system where they were unfairly treated and for dismantling the system so others don’t have to endure the struggles they went through.

This courageous act by the players to combat an alleged environment of toxicity and inappropriate conduct highlights the power that college athletes in our society have today. The wrongs that may have been overlooked in the past due to stigmas surrounding athletics are no longer being allowed to stain the game today due to the voices of these young men and women.

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