UPDATE: UH announces internal review following account of ‘punishment workout’
Update 8:10 p.m.: The Houston Chronicle has reported that two players on the soccer team said the incidents described by the anonymous player to KPRC are inaccurate.
Junior midfielder Mia Brascia and senior midfielder Lauren Flowers had a 55-minute interview with the Houston Chronicle.
“It’s frustrating because we were there and then to see that person on the news say things that are not true about a coach we love is really hard,” Brascia said to the Houston Chronicle.
Flowers said to the Houston Chronicle the anonymous interview is not reflective of the entire team.
“I’ve never felt fearful of my coaches. I’ve never felt like I didn’t have a voice or felt my opinion didn’t matter,” Flowers said.
The players stressed to the Houston Chronicle that a 2018 incident of a player taking food designated for the football team and the January 2019 incident that led to 12 players hospitalized with rhabdo are unrelated.
Brasica called the January workouts “nothing more extreme than we had done before.”
“We’ve had multiple opportunities to speak up if we felt there was any negligence or if something was really going on,” Brascia said.
Original: The University launched on Wednesday an internal review of policies and processes, according to KPRC (Channel 2), after a member of the soccer team detailed a grueling February 2018 workout in the wake of a January incident that landed 12 players in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis, a condition that can lead to kidney failure.
The player, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from the program and the University, according to KPRC, described the nearly hour-long “punishment workout” as leaving her feeling “tortured almost.”
“I was just so mad and confused because, of course, I was going to keep going ’cause I’m scared,” the player told KPRC. “But I’m looking at everyone else and people were crying, barely pushing themselves off the ground.”
In a statement from UH, the school acknowledged the KPRC report as the first its heard of the situation and announced a joint review with two internal departments.
“The University’s knowledge of this information has triggered a joint review by UH System Audit and UH Compliance of our compliance with processes and policies,” the statement read. “Based on their respective findings, each investigative unit is directed to take swift action and make immediate recommendations to ensure the health and well-being of UH student-athletes.”
In an email uncovered by KPRC, head coach Diego Bocanegra admitted to relying on “physical punishment” for discipline throughout the program but has since discontinued the practice.
The Feb. 2018 punishment came about, the player said, after teammates were accused of stealing food designated for football players. She explained that the team had prepared for a short practice that day but were met with the punishment.
“Instead,” the player told KPRC, “we were punished for something that two people did that had nothing to do with everyone else.”
Bocanegra, along with other coaches on the team, the player added, should be removed from the program given the situation that transpired.
“I think I would completely take out all the coaches, put in brand-new ones, talk to the girls, see their concerns, see what they are looking for, what they want and try to, like, actually get to the bottom of what’s been happening,” the player said.
The player, who said that other members of the team were scared to speak out on the issue, was joined by parents of players in the concern.
“I don’t like the idea that a punishment was ordered,” an anonymous parent said to KPRC.
KPRC spoke to Rick Flores, an Austin-based hazing attorney, about potential criminality under current hazing laws.
“It can come from a coach, from a trainer. It can come from an administrator,” Flores said. “But it’s the person at which it’s directed that makes it a criminal statute of hazing.”
The University’s policy defines hazing as an action that “produces or is reasonably likely to produce bodily harm or danger, mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, fright, humiliation or ridicule, or otherwise compromises the dignity of an individual.”