Writing about the abusive environment allegedly faced by Oregon State University volleyball players, the Associated Press sought documentation about OSU’s investigation. AP was first denied by OSU, then won an appeal to the local district attorney’s office, but is now being sued by the University to prevent disclosure.
In July of 2020, AP published an article describing volleyball players’ allegations of abuse from coach Mark Bernard, followed by a second article in November when more players came forward about abuses tied to threats surrounding scholarship renewal. It was after publishing this article that AP sought information about the University’s investigations.
The allegations against Bernard include the coach pitting players against each other, threats of revoking scholarships, and high expectations which push players past health warnings during practice. These actions have led to more than a dozen complaints, 11 players quitting or transferring from the team, and at least three serious cases of suicide ideation among players since 2016.
Although several players, including 2019 graduate Kory Cheshire, deny the allegations against Bernard, at least two players, Kyla Waiters and Amya Small, told AP about their experiences with Bernard that led each of them to attempt or seriously consider suicide. AP also reported that more people had come forward with accounts that “portrayed a coaching staff that has regularly bullied players, some of them to tears, in practices.” Most of these informants did not want their names used in the article for fear of endangering the status of the 12 athletes on the team at the time.
Despite these accounts, University spokesperson Steve Clark disputed that the environment led team members to contemplate suicide, and disputed the allegations that AP shared.
One player made a complaint which triggered an investigation into “possible violations of OSU policy with regard to bullying and retaliation against members of the volleyball team” which was completed last May. However no conclusions were made public. Spokesperson Clark said that “appropriate action was taken” after an investigation by OSU’s Equal Opportunity and access office.
A hearing for the University’s litigation of AP is scheduled for June 25.
By Ardea C. Eichner