Photo: Timothy Easley (AP)

On March 25, graduating senior Taryn Taugher of the Northern Kentucky Norse women’s basketball team wrote a lengthy article in The Odyssey claiming that she was repeatedly verbally abused by head coach Camryn Whitaker. Several other former players have since come forward and alleged that Whitaker berated players, broke down their self-confidence, and isolated them from teammates in order to make examples out of those who didn’t follow her orders.

According to Taugher, she began writing the article on the bus ride back from her final game as a player, a 16-point loss to IUPUI. She said Whitaker emotionally abused her by continually degrading her in front of the team and in private, calling her lazy, threatening to take her scholarship away, and ostracizing her from her teammates. Whitaker used her as an “emotional punching bag,” attacking her physique and worth as a person in private meetings to the point that she associated basketball “with being emotionally abused.”

I would not wish my experience on anyone. I now understand why college athletes commit suicide. Between the anxiety and lack of sleep and appetite from the constant attacks on my character and family, I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. Thankfully, with the support of my family and teammates, I am in a better place and I am free. I am free from her oppression. I am free from the horrible thoughts she made me believe about myself. I am free from the fear and anxiety.

Northern Kentucky was one of the most successful Division II programs in the nation, winning a pair of national titles before moving up to Division I in 2012. The Norse had winning records through their first four years at the top level of college basketball, but the team has gone 29-62 since Whitaker arrived in 2016. Eight players have either quit or transferred since Whitaker took over, while two assistant coaches have also left.

Shortly after Taugher published her story, eight current NKU players responded with a letter to the community in support of Whitaker. The letter neither named Whitaker nor addressed any of Taugher’s specific allegations, but it ultimately concluded that while playing for Whitaker demanded a lot from players, “the demands and hardships are not and have not exceeded the expected amount. In fact, we believe the struggles of today will only benefit us in the future.”

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After the letter was published, though, the Cincinnati Enquirer spoke to two other players and one player’s father, all of whom made similar allegations against Whitaker. Shar’Rae Davis played her final season for the Norse during Whitaker’s first year as coach, and she claimed Whitaker picked on Davis’s ulcerative colitis and “pitted the team against her and used her medical condition as punishment for her and her teammates.” Davis said she was punished by getting benched when she had to miss occasional practices to deal with her condition. Once, she had to run to the bathroom during practice and Whitaker allegedly forced the rest of the team to run sprints until Davis came back.

That started the isolation, and Davis said it got worse when Whitaker forbade teammates from eating with her, rooming with her, or even associating with her. In her story, Taugher had mentioned that someone on the team was isolated in such a way, and several players confirmed to the Enquirer that “it was known on the team that if you associated with Davis you were going to be exiled, lose playing time, and be berated.”

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The Enquirer also spoke to the father of sophomore Reece Mungar, who is transferring because of what her father called a “toxic environment.” After Mungar told Whitaker she wouldn’t meet privately with her unless her parents were present, Whitaker allegedly banned her from a game, telling the rest of the team she was a “fucking bad friend and teammate.”

Another player, Kasey Uetrecht, lodged a formal Title IX complaint after she abruptly left the team during a road trip, the same trip where Davis was forced to bunk without any of her teammates.

“I was at such a low point in my life,” Uetrecht said in an interview. “I had never felt so broken before and she had completely destroyed any confidence or love for the game I had.”

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After making the complaint, Uetrecht said the school promised to investigate, but instead it was “swept under the rug.”

Whitaker found out that someone made a Title IX complaint in Dec. 2018, telling the team, “I don’t know who’s trying to ruin my life… but I want to let you know that I am invincible and I am not going anywhere. I am your coach. I signed a contract and I’m not going anywhere.” None of the eight players who wrote the letter of support for Whitaker responded to the Enquirer’s requests for comment; the school announced it would conduct an independent investigation of the women’s basketball team.

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[The Odyssey | Cincinnati Enquirer]