The issue of abusive coaches has flared up yet again at Rutgers. On Thursday, the school fired swimming and diving coach Petra Martin after an NJ Advance Media investigation found that she “shamed athletes over their weight, used abusive language during training sessions and demanded they stop using medication prescribed by their doctors for anxiety and other issues.”
In 2013, Rutgers fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice after video surfaced of him verbally abusing his players and throwing balls at them during practice. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti later resigned after it was revealed he knew about Rice’s abuse but recommended the coach merely be suspended. To replace Pernetti, Rutgers hired Julie Hermann, a former volleyball coach at Tennessee who was accused by 11 of her Lady Vols players of “mental cruelty” in a 1996 letter that led to her resignation. Hermann hired Martin in 2015, months before she herself was fired.
One anecdote about Martin is particularly disturbing.
A Scarlet Knights swimmer, who requested anonymity, told reporter Keith Sargeant that she approached Martin privately in January 2016 about how she had become depressed and was having suicidal thoughts because of the pressure she was facing over Martin’s insistence that she lose weight. Martin put her arm around her, Sargeant reports, “and said they would get through this.”
The next day, however, Martin singled out the swimmer in the locker room after a meet at Penn State, calling her “a bad teammate” in front of the other athletes. Sargeant says this story was confirmed by one other team member.
“That was utterly devastating,” the swimmer told Sargeant. “That whole bus ride back, I just felt like I needed to be punished because I was this horrible teammate and every negative thought that I had until this point was validated. [I felt] like I should have finished the job in December.”
The swimmer, who left the team in September but kept her scholarship after being put on medical leave, also said team members were “guilted and scolded” if they didn’t compete nutrition logs that served as “pressure to eat less and to diet.”
A former member of the team, Barbra Brottman, said Martin made the team perform drills in which they held their breath underwater for as long as they could while swimming the length of the pool. Swimmers “were on the verge of blacking out; people were peeing themselves because they had no oxygen left,” Brottman told Sargeant. “That was, I guess, her way of showing us who’s boss. I lost the love of this sport within a month of having her as a coach.”
Brottman also claims Martin told her to stop taking the anti-anxiety medication she had been using for years because they were causing her to gain weight. Martin “was very verbally and mentally abusive. She body-shamed the kids,” Mark Brottman, Barbra’s father, told Sargeant. “With Barbra, [Martin] said she swam slowly because she was fat. It was sad to see a kid who started swimming when she was 5 just lose her love for the sport.”
Another parent accused Martin of “Mike Rice tactics.”
In an email to Sargeant, Martin said the accusations against her “are not true” but that she had been advised not to comment further. She earned nearly $100,000 in salary and bonuses in 2016.
In a statement, Rutgers said it had conducted two investigations into Martin’s behavior but did not find any violations of school policy. However, based on concerns raised in the past week, the school said “it was in the best interest of the program for the coach to resign.”
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