KNOXVILLE (WATE) – In the midst of a lawsuit alleging the University of Tennessee has and condones a hostile sexual assault environment, all 16 varsity sports coaches called an unprecedented press conference.
For almost an hour, the coaches spoke about how well the different sports worked together, how they shared facilities, and how each of them stood by their athletes. But that was never in question. In fact, the lawsuit essentially says no matter what their athletes do, the university and the athletic department is going to stand with them.
It wasn’t until more than 50 minutes into the hour-long press conference WATE 6 On Your Side was able to shift the conversation to one about sexual assault victims.
“I think we’ve heard that you guys stand with your student athletes and you’re strong as a department, I think that message is clear across the nation. But you can’t forget about the victims,” said WATE 6 On Your Side reporter Hailey Holloway. “How are sexual assault victims and future sexual assault victims supposed to feel when six women, who don’t even want to be named, finally have the courage to come together and speak up, and they’re met with 16 head coaches at one of the biggest schools in the nation saying ‘No, the culture here is great.’ How are they supposed to feel?”
After an hour of numerous coaches wanting to respond to each question that had been asked, only one spoke up: head football coach Butch Jones.
“Our hearts, our prayers, our feelings go out to the alleged victims,” he said. “That’s why we’re constantly trying to educate our players, we’re constantly trying to prevent any of this from happening.”
“I don’t want you to think in shape way or form we don’t feel for the alleged victims. We feel for them. I hurt for them, we all hurt for them,” Jones continued. “That hits at our soul.”
But what message was sent to future sexual assault victims? Every head coach was there to show a united front for the athletes and administration, and while most of the hour was spent on that, a few coaches spoke about sexual assault victims at the end of the press conference.
“About the victims, obviously our hearts really go out to them,” said volleyball coach Rob Patrick. “There’s no room for that in any environment.”
“I certainly wouldn’t want to portray that, that everything is great and we’re fine,” said rowing coach, Lisa Glenn. “There is a constant dialogue about ways to be better. And I think it’s very important to say that and not assume that we’re satisfied with where we are ”
“It’s so unfortunate that we have victims of sexual assault,” Lady Vols head basketball coach Holly Warlick said. “We’re going to continue to make sure that we eliminate that. Is it all going to go away? No, but we’re going to try to put our young men and women in situations that it can be a positive environment.”
David Randolph Smith, the attorney representing the alleged victims, told WATE 6 On Your Side that he really didn’t understand why all of the coaches were there, talking about how well they all get along. He said that the claims of a hostile sexual assault environment are directed at the football program, and one incident in the basketball program.
“It’s terrible that, unfortunately, the football program, when attacked, rallies the wagons instead of addressing what the actual issue is,” Smith said.
Smith will file an amended complaint against the university Wednesday with two additional Jane Does who have claims against two other UT football players.