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Commentary: UH Athletics, Bocanegra wrong despite rhabdo investigation findings

Diego Bocanegra remains the head soccer coach despite the rhabdomyolysis controversy, which took flight in June. After two extreme workouts in February 2018 and January 2019, a number of athletes were hospitalized and treated for the potentially fatal rhabdo. | File photo

Following a lengthy investigation regarding several rhabdomyolysis diagnoses in Houston soccer players, the Board of Regents finally released the results from their internal audit Nov. 14, which reviewed two claims of “punishment workouts.”

The incidents resulted in the termination of former strength coach Minor Bowens in February, but head coach Diego Bocanegra remains unpunished for what transpired on his field.

Bocanegra is head of the soccer coaching staff. He is meant to serve as a mentor to his student athletes and should also advocate for their overall health and well-being.

Regardless of whether or not he instructed the team to complete these workouts, he remains an accomplice to endangering the students’ health and safety, and he should be punished as such. He stood by and let it happen.

Where the story begins

A light was shed on this issue in June when an anonymous UH soccer player appeared on KPRC and recounted the February 2018 workout that resulted in the five-day hospitalization of a student athlete.

The anonymous student described the workouts as “torture almost” to reporter Mario Diaz.

The team was forced to do roughly 250-300 up-downs followed by planks and shuttle run drills, which was a punishment for the actions of two players, according to the anonymous student.

Their crime? Eating food designated for the UH football team.

While the student athletes struggled to keep going, the coaching staff allegedly screamed obscenities at the players.

“‘Get the f*** up,’ ” the coaches said, according to the anonymous student.

More of the first, but worse

Unfortunately, the February 2018 workout was not an isolated incident.

During its first practice back from winter break this January, the soccer team was forced to endure another intense workout.

This resulted in a total of 15 student athletes being treated for rhabdomyolysis a few days after their practice, and it garnered much attention from local media.

Bocanegra ‘acted appropriately,’ but not really

The audit confirms much of what the anonymous student claimed during her interview, but it neglects to identify any true blame for the first incident.

Instead, it points to the fact that UH didn’t have a policy in place to prohibit “punishment workouts.”

It does, however, say the February 2018 “punishment workout” was excessive and should have been stopped by Bocanegra.

As for the January 2019 workout, Bowens accepted the responsibility and was fired for his role in what happened, but again, the report said the workout should have been stopped.

It goes on to say the workout was too extreme for a first practice after a break, which is the product of poor coaching.

Policy trumps ethics

Bocanegra still holds his position as head coach, and this proves UH isn’t as truly invested in the safety of its student athletes as it claims to be.

Both incidents should and could have been stopped by Bocanegra. His negligence resulted in the harm of student athletes on two separate occasions, both of which could have been avoided and have gone unpunished.

While the report claims Bocanegra “acted appropriately,” common sense says his inaction directly affected the outcome of these workouts.

As a leader, it is his responsibility to ensure the safety of the players, and by neglecting that responsibility, he put the student athletes’ health at risk.

If UH athletics wants to take a stance and demonstrate its dedication to mental and physical health, its first move should be to remove Bocanegra from the soccer coaching staff.

No student should be fearful of those who are meant to lead them.

Despite University policy, the UH soccer handbook or any law, Bocanegra was ethically wrong to let the February 2018 and January 2019 workouts take place, and UH athletics is ethically wrong to allow him the opportunity to do it again.

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