Gators players detail alleged abuse by ex-coach

Gators players detail alleged abuse by ex-coach

October 1, 2021

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    GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Haley Lorenzen was once one of the most reliable players on the Florida Gators women’s basketball team. During her senior year in 2017-18, the 6-3 forward became just the 10th Gator to start 100 career games.

    But that same season, her first under Florida’s newly hired head coach Cameron Newbauer, is also the year, Lorenzen said, that her “love for the game was abysmal.”

    Lorenzen, now 25 and working in Orlando as a sales representative for a construction company, told ESPN the toxic and abusive culture Newbauer created within his basketball program made her lose a passion she’d had her entire life.

    “I had the opportunity to play professional basketball. I had an agent lined up. I even went to the WNBA combine and I got there and I just didn’t even want to be there,” Lorenzen said. She said she didn’t touch a basketball for more than a year after her experience under Newbauer.

    Lorenzen is one of five former Florida Gators who played under Newbauer to tell ESPN that the former coach routinely belittled and berated them at practices. Players described a pressure-cooker environment where the slightest misstep during a practice drill or a game could spark fury from their former coach. They said he threw basketballs at players, at one point hitting a player recovering from a torn ACL in her injured leg, made racially insensitive comments and routinely reduced players to tears during profanity-laced tirades. Lorenzen and other players first went on the record with their allegations Monday in a story published in the school’s newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator.

    Newbauer did not respond to ESPN’s requests for comment.

    Newbauer was introduced as the women’s basketball coach in March 2017, the first hire for Gators Athletic Director Scott Stricklin. Prior to arriving in Gainesville, he’d led Belmont University, a private Christian school in Nashville with an enrollment of just over 8,000 students, to two trips to the NCAA women’s tournament.

    Despite having a sub-.400 winning percentage in his first four years at Florida, Newbauer was rewarded with a three-year contract extension in June.

    “Cam is building his program the right way and making steady progress,” Stricklin said when the extension was announced.

    But in mid-July, Newbauer suddenly resigned, citing personal reasons.

    At the time of his resignation, the school never mentioned any reports of abusive behavior. That acknowledgement came only after allegations of the abuse appeared in the school newspaper earlier this week.

    “There were concerns brought to our attention. Each time, additional information was sought, and these concerns were addressed directly with Cam as we required corrective actions and outlined clear expectations of behavior moving forward,” the school said in a statement on Monday. “Ultimately, we did not see the required improvements, and following discussions with Coach Newbauer he made the decision to resign.”

    A day after that initial statement was released, Stricklin made more strongly worded comments to a small group of reporters, telling them, “We failed in this situation,” and adding “ultimately that’s my responsibility for the culture of this department. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

    The university declined to make Stricklin available for an interview with ESPN.

    An athletic department spokesperson has acknowledged that the school received multiple complaints about Newbauer’s treatment of his players after his initial season with the Gators.

    In an April 2018 email to Stricklin, Frank and Lynn Morang, the parents of former Gators guard Sydney Morang, wrote that Newbauer had “cultivated a toxic environment and is not equipped to coach young athletes who are at a crucial point in their development as women.”

    Lynn and Frank had heard stories of Newbauer’s alleged behavior all season long from their daughter, who was later medically retired after a series of concussions, and also their son, who was a member of the practice squad during Newbauer’s first season.

    “As a parent it was infuriating,” said Lynn Morang, who had played college basketball herself at Boston University. “To have a man treat these young women like this, as well as staff, it was a disbelief that just kept mounting.”

    After the Morangs made their concerns known to Stricklin in the email, which was also sent to the school’s president, Kent Fuchs, Newbauer’s superiors in the athletic department made him aware of the complaints and subjected him to greater oversight.

    The players ESPN spoke with span the length of Newbauer’s tenure at Florida. Sydney Searcy, now a guard at Detroit Mercy, was a sophomore during Newbauer’s first season as head coach of the Gators. She remembers Newbauer frequently referring to players as “b—-es.” She and others also say Newbauer, who is white, made racially insensitive comments about the hair and tattoos of several Black players on his team.

    Searcy, who is Black, said she witnessed one incident in which Newbauer forced three players, all of whom were Black, to throw away their clothing because he was displeased with their appearance.

    “He didn’t like that they wore baggier or men’s clothing, as if they dressed like thugs,” Searcy said. “He had them go into the locker room and throw their clothes away. … As a Black woman I saw the pain and the fear in their eyes.”

    Mikayla Hayes, who is also Black, played alongside Searcy and also recalled the incident involving the three players. She told ESPN Newbauer made her teammates go to the mall to get clothing that he thought would be more appropriate.

    Hayes said Newbauer was particularly insensitive to teammates who were part of the LGBTQ+ community.

    “I had a lot of teammates who were gay and he would always tell them he didn’t like the way they looked or how they presented themselves,” Hayes said. Like Lorenzen, Hayes said Newbauer affected her self-esteem and love of the game. “It’s five years later and I’m just finally getting back to being myself again,” said Hayes, who is now a graduate student and center at Xavier.

    The experience of Lorenzen, Searcy and Hayes, mirrors that of Cydnee Kinslow, a 6-2 forward, who played for Newbauer during the 2020-21 season.

    Kinslow, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said at one point Newbauer called her into his office, had her view practice video of her slapping palms with a teammate and then proceeded to question whether the two were involved in an intimate relationship.

    “It was very difficult to play behind someone that we felt was very sexist and homophobic, racist, all those kinds of things,” Kinslow said. “The way he treated women was outrageous. He just had some sort of complex to where women were inferior to him and it was hard, especially being a women’s basketball team.”

    Several former Gators players told ESPN that current interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley, who served as Newbauer’s associate head coach, should be held accountable for failing to intervene, to question or stop Newbauer’s alleged behavior.

    “Kelly was the one who walked behind him and bandaged everything, cleaning up his mess every single time and sweeping it under the rug,” Kinslow said. The university also declined to make Finley available for an interview.

    On Friday, a former Gators staffer who says he attended 95% of practices provided a different account to ESPN. He declined to provide his name out of concern that it could affect his current employment, but said the reports of abuse by Newbauer are being overblown.

    “There’s parts of every story that are exaggerated but I don’t think anybody’s lying,” the source said.

    He told ESPN that Newbauer’s practices were “emotional” and “intense” and that the former coach’s greatest issue was that he coached everyone the same, even those players who might not respond to “hard coaching.” He added that he never witnessed anything that, to him, crossed the line.

    “Nothing physical. Nothing racial. That’s the way I saw it, at least,” he said.

    Another source familiar with the school’s review of the complaints raised about Newbauer said the university found no evidence that he threw basketballs at players, and received no complaints about Newbauer making racially insensitive comments.

    “I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m just saying we didn’t find any evidence to support those allegations,” the source said.

    Lorenzen and the other former Gators who spoke with ESPN are frustrated that it took so long for the allegations of abusive behavior to come to light.

    Ultimately, it was Lynn Morang, the mother of a former player, who provided an online tip to the school’s newspaper, alerting it to the real reasons behind Newbauer’s sudden resignation in July. The Morangs and others say they were upset that Newbauer was allowed to resign from the school without being held accountable for his behavior.

    “We came to the conclusion that it was another example of an institution protecting itself over the people it was supposed to protect, in this case young women,” Lynn Morang said.

    Haley Lorenzen hopes that by speaking out about her experience with her former coach, other athletes stuck in abusive environments will feel emboldened to use their voices.

    “Mental health is important and who you hire is important because at the end of the day they’re not just a coach, they’re a mentor, they’re a mom or a dad away from home.”

    She said Newbauer should serve as an example that schools “can do so much damage in so many lives if you don’t pick the right person.”

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