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Brown University Band will not perform at women’s basketball games in protest of Head Coach

Behn denies allegations of making comments about players’ weights, singling out players with vulgar language

By , , and
Senior Editor, Senior Reporter, Metro Editor, University News Editor
Monday, February 24, 2020

In Sarah Behn’s tenure as head coach of the women’s basketball team, the Bears have accumulated an Ivy League record of 20-60, with a conference-winning percentage of 25.0 over that span.

The Brown University Band announced they will not be playing at women’s basketball home games for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season, citing allegations circulating about the conduct of women’s basketball Head Coach Sarah Behn. The band made the announcement in a letter posted to their Facebook page Feb. 18.

Band President Elizabeth Rogan ’21 and Vice President Charlie Gagnon ’22 made the decision along with the four other members of the band’s executive board. Before the announcement, the band had planned to perform at two upcoming home matchups this spring.

“We decided to not continue to attend games because we felt like the things we were hearing about the women’s basketball team would make continuing to attend those games a negative statement, and one that was contrary to the band’s values,” Gagnon said.

In an email to The Herald, Behn wrote that “a boycott of the women’s basketball games by the Brown Band only hurts our dedicated student-athletes who continue to represent Brown to the best of their abilities.” Behn has denied all allegations, including making comments about players’ weights and singling out players with vulgar language, in her statement to The Herald.

The band “wholeheartedly (supports) the female athletes on the women’s basketball team,” Rogan said. “Our priority is supporting them, but we did not feel like we could do that in the most productive way by continuing to attend their games.”

In early February, various posts on Dear Blueno — a student-run Facebook page that solicits and posts anonymous submissions — referenced concerns surrounding Behn’s leadership and catalyzed discussion on campus.

“We can’t say that things online didn’t influence our decision,” said Gagnon, who stressed that the band “also received concerns from (band) members.”

Seven former players on the women’s basketball team have alleged that Behn repeatedly made remarks about players’ weights, used language that they described as vulgar and singled out players for criticism.

The seven former players said that they left the team in part because of Behn’s actions as head coach.

But not all players share those criticisms; two current players and two other alums wrote statements to The Herald in support of Behn.

The Herald spoke with players last year, but Herald leadership decided additional reporting was necessary before publication.

Body Weight

During her first and only year on the basketball team, Maxine Offiaeli ’18 said she was told by Coach Behn that she needed to lose 30 to 40 pounds in one season, or else she would no longer be able to play for the team.

Offiaeli left the squad the summer after receiving that comment, she told The Herald. “The environment that was being created by (Behn) … I didn’t think (it) was very healthy,” Offiaeli said. “It was a very negative experience for me.”

The band’s decision “shows solidarity with people who were (on the women’s basketball team) and had to go through what they went through — I think it (is) really powerful,” Offiaeli said.

“In my opinion, I have never made a player feel bad about her appearance or body type,” Behn wrote in a statement to The Herald. “My assistant coaches and I have always used the word ‘fitness’ to describe goals and motivate all our athletes to train to achieve their best level of fitness so they can compete better.”

Lames ElGammal ’20 and a class of 2017 alum, who requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, said they witnessed Behn making separate comments about weight, warning players in front of their teammates that unless they lost weight, they would not have the opportunity to play.

Behn would tell players “‘You need to lose some weight and then you’ll be faster,’” ElGammal said. “Other coaches really related (performance) to conditioning rather than weight.”

But Maddie Mullin ’22, a current member of the team, “was never witness to body shaming,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. Sophie Bikofsky ’15, a former captain and a member of the University’s Advisory Council on Athletics, agreed, writing that “at no point did Coach Behn ever make any direct references to me or any of my teammates regarding weight.”

Language and Criticism

The 2017 graduate and two other players who graduated the same year and requested anonymity out of fear of professional repercussions said Behn would often yell at individual players and the team during practice, using language that they described as vulgar.

According to the three former players, Behn often called her players “pussies” and “shitheads” after they would make mistakes in practice.

She also blamed individual players for mistakes and losses and used the opportunity to discipline individual players and tell them “you suck” in front of the team, two of the former players said.

“The ways she would go about making people feel like shit was definitely a violation of basic respect,” said one alum who requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions. “Once we got into (Ivy League competition), we just got our ass kicked, game after game after game. … She always turned on us, screaming at us all the time.”

Behn denied this characterization.

“I have never and would never single out a player by using profanities at her or blame an individual for team results,” Behn wrote. “I have worked hard to bring positive energy and to use positive language around our players every single day.”

Mullin said that she does not recall Behn using vulgar language toward players.

Bikofsky wrote that while Behn would at times use “colorful language” in moments of frustration, it was not used to demean players.

“(Behn) is a passionate and dedicated coach, which led to some warranted outbursts when we didn’t play up to our potential,” wrote Erika Steeves ’19, a former captain of the team, in a statement to The Herald. “I’m not going to lie and say that I was never upset at practice, but that comes with college athletics and it was not because my coach was disrespectful.”

Some players said Behn also encouraged players to criticize each other.

In the fall of 2018, Behn had the team engage in a “call-out” meeting in which the players were asked to call each other out on issues regarding team dynamics and time management, according to ElGammal and a player who left the team later that season and requested anonymity out of fear for personal repercussions. ElGammal described the meeting as “horrifying” to her. Both former players said teammates cried, and one individual quit the team during the meeting.

“I called that meeting because our team was not performing up to our abilities,” Behn wrote. “In that specific meeting my four assistant coaches and I asked for honest feedback from our players in an effort to learn players’ feelings and help us support them better and come together as a team to play to our potential.”

University Response

Three former players, including ElGammal and Abby O’Keefe ’21, said they have each separately reported Behn’s behavior to the University through conversations with Carolan Norris, the senior associate director of athletics for student-athlete services — conversations which in their view did not result in changes to the program or team environment.

In an email to The Herald, Norris wrote that she “will not be able to share my conversations or identify the student-athletes due to privacy concerns.”

One player’s parent, who requested anonymity out of fear of personal and professional repercussions against his daughter, said he submitted multiple complaints against Behn to Director of Athletics Jack Hayes over the past five years.

In an email that The Herald reviewed, the same parent contacted Hayes about Behn in August 2018. Hayes never responded to the email, according to the parent.

“When concerns are brought to our attention, we take them seriously, review them in detail and take appropriate actions as deemed necessary,” Hayes said. “Not reporting details back to students or parents does not mean Brown Athletics has not addressed a concern, if our review determined that action was necessary.”

In Behn’s six years coaching the team, she has compiled an 20-60 Ivy League record, with a winning percentage of 25.0 in conference matchups.

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  1. Brown U Athletics Supporter says:

    I think this article is just the beginning of what will come out about this program. Coach Behn allowed the Brown Women’s basketball program to become an extremely toxic environment, resulting in 10+ players to quit in the last year and a half alone. There has also been a constant turnover of assistant coaches. Current and former team members have also been victims of emotional manipulation and the spreading of false rumors. Additionally, the coaching staff has exploited mental health issues, further exacerbating existing issues. For example, Coach Behn used information shared in confidence to her and a team therapist against several players. She also has equated depression with a lack of team commitment and spirit.

    It is imperative that the athletic department recognize what is happening on this team and look for new coaching leadership for the sake of the girls on the team, future recruits, and the future of the program. The Ivy League is a great place to play basketball – future student athletes should be excited to come play for Brown rather than scared away.

  2. Supporter of Female Athletes says:

    Let’s be clear that the players who selectively came out in support of Coach Behn play(ed) and were(are) favorites. With all due respect to Ms. Steeves, her experience obviously was dramatically different from the 10+ players who quit the team. The macro aggressions and micro aggressions by Coach Behn on the topics of weight, race , playing time and which families she choose to be chummy with are vastly different. Furthermore, Ms. Steeves statements are a testament to the toxic environment of the program. As a captain she was unaware or claims unawareness of what was happening to the players that did quit, because it did not affect her. To blatantly discount the players who came out to speak their truth about their experience with Coach Behn is clear evidence of the lack of concern and this is a direct result of Coach Behn’s leadership of this program.

    Many of the girls who quit are dealing with mental issues as result of being in this program. These girls did not have the luxury of being the coach’s buddy where clear infractions were tolerated and did not affect playing time, such as consuming alcohol on the bus after a game, missing workouts and hanging out with the coach to drink.

    Coach Behn also has exposed the team to a male friend (not a Brown employee and not on the staff) , who has traveled on the bus with the team to games and during practice. Not sure if the athletic department, director, knew about this, but I am sure many parents would not be happy to know their daughters were exposed to this male-friend without their knowledge.

    The lost of 10+ players and 20-60 record speaks chapters to the fact there is something wrong in this program. This program literally is at the bottom of the league. The fact that the athletic director did not respond to a parents concerns about their child, is unacceptable.

    It is a necessity that Brown Administration get involved and do something. Brown is a prestigious institution of learning and excellence. It was once excellent in sports. This program is a blemish to the university’s reputation under Coach Behn. She does not represent the high standards of this institution. Women are to celebrated and elevated, not destroyed.

    • You clearly have an Agenda against the Coach. All of these allegations were vehemently denied by many former and current players. They are on record stating the allegations are false, never happened.

      You now bring a whole new bunch of baseless anonymous accusations including race which is disgusting. The team and the coaching staff have the most diversity in the Ivy League.

      Cancel culture is real!

      • Female Athlete Supporter says:

        There are only 3 girls on record plus the coach denying the allegations. There are, however, 7 girls plus a parent on record stating their truth. So the girls making the allegations on record must be wrong of course. Once again 10+ players quit this team and there is 20-60 IVY league record. So the record, regardless of the support or allegations, speaks for itself.

  3. What a shoddy piece of “journalism.” The Daily Herald should be embarrassed at the decision to publish this article; at most this is an opinion piece. The liberal use of anonymous sources goes against all journalistic guidelines and professionalism. I am also curious how many current and former players were sought out for fair and honest reporting and how Coach Behn was approached to respond to the accusations.

    If anything, perhaps Coach Behn could have brought in a medical doctor to address fitness and weight with the team. But you might assume that DI athletes at an Ivy League institution would know that a higher level of fitness could only benefit the team. You cannot lambaste her for a losing record while simultaneously being upset that she (maybe) called athletes out for less than ideal fitness.

    I expect better from this paper.

  4. Disappointed says:

    Honestly, this article barely scratches the surface. The amount of inattention Jack Hayes and the athletic department give to player complaints is outrageous. Coaches from multiple women’s sports have rumors of abusing players mentally and physically. Coach Behn is just a great example of Brown women’s sports as a whole. The former football coach was pressured out despite having won championships in the past, due to recent poor performances. Female sports teams can’t get coaches fired even if they have losing records, AND have large numbers of women quitting/complaining.

    • Wow, this is spreading like wildfire! First it was Coach Behn. Now it’s multiple female coaches mentally and physically abusing female student/athletes while the AD looks the other way. But you’re also concerned about the wins and losses. I’m sure there will be some new allegations tomorrow. Maybe it will be that the female coaches blow their whistle too loudly.

  5. Seems like an unbalanced article! Let’s blame the coach for everything under the sun, while these players take zero responsibility. This is a D1 very competitive sport, so it’s probably a good idea to be in shape if you want to play and compete. Let me get this straight – all the players who were not very productive players were mad they didn’t play and then blamed the coach. In addition, all the players who actually do get on the court, are only there because they are the coach’s favorites?! Sounds like sour grapes… There are more than three players (past and present) in support of Coach Behn but of course those facts are not helpful to a group of people making unsubstantiated allegations.

  6. Sports Enthusiast says:

    A lot of gaslighting going on this thread. It’s pretty sad that automatically the young women who are making these allegations are labeled as unproductive. Easy to state the girls who did not play were out of shape, actually kind of stupid since all the women have to go through all the same physical conditioning preseason, during the season and post season like most teams do. Of course the coach will deny all allegations, why would she admit to them. The truth of what happened on the court and locker room, however, is known amongst all the players and the coach in this program. Very easy to label these allegations as sour grapes. Before judging these young women, why don’t you know all the facts first. You are not these players and don´t know the whole story, you don’t know what they experienced. To make light of their stories is disgusting.

    • It is not gaslighting, it is the truth. Yes the players all go through preseason conditioning, but were they able to pass a basic fitness test? Ask them if they could pass, because the players do know the truth as you accurately pointed out. All these sour grapes players had the fortune to be recruited to play D1 basketball at an Ivy League school. None of them would ever play professionally. Basketball didn’t work out but they get a Brown diploma. There should be gratitude, not condemnation.

      • Former player says:

        There was a two mile fitness test at the beginning of the 2017-2018 season. Some of the players passed and some did not. However, only some players that didn’t pass the fitness test had to run it again, and the ones that didn’t have to repeat the test were ‘favorites’ that got time. Can you really argue that this is not preferential treatment?

  7. Here’s the thing. This is athletics. If you are not in good enough shape to run up and down a court and it is a detriment to team performance, then the coach should meet with you individually to talk about fitness goals. Coaches across NCAA D-1 sports use at times ‘vulgar’ language, having also been one myself. If you suck, you suck. Use it as fire to get better. Because, quite frankly, you’re going to continue getting steamrolled otherwise.

    • Basketball Alum says:

      Unfortunately, you people are sadly mistaken about the facts of this article. Many “favorites” of the team were not held to the same fitness standards (i.e. did NOT pass fitness tests) yet were not punished or held accountable. Regardless of their physical shape and performance on the court, they were given regular exemptions. Though this article focuses a lot on weight it is not the key problem here. The regular emotional abuse, mental manipulation, unethical behavior, and flat out lies are the key issues. Additionally, if so many players were quote on quote out of shape, shouldn’t this call into question the efficacy of the coaches’ recruiting and conditioning programs?
      There have been some extremely talented players that have gone through this program, yet the Ivy record is quite frankly deplorable. The coaching staff needs to be held accountable and take responsibility for tanking this program.

      I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to play at and attend an Ivy League school. However, it is unacceptable that after years of hard work and sacrifice, my teammates and I were subject to an incredibly toxic environment. Many of us passed up other opportunities to come play here – the Brown athletic department should value its student athletes and their experiences, both on and off the court.

  8. What about women’s crew that has strict weight requirements, such as for coxswains? Or male wrestlers meeting weight? It’s sports. This is ridiculous.

  9. Basketball Fan says:

    If there is a weight standard and a coach as an issue with someone’s body physique, weight etc. discuss it with recruit at the time of recruiting. Don’t extend an offer to come play in the program then ask them to lose 30-40lbs. A person’s physique type does not interfere with their performance. Strength and conditioning affects an athletes performance. Simple. Clearly you have to be in shape to play a sport. No one is stupid to the fact. Not everyone has a cookie cutter body type/physique that built the same. Frame and muscle structure will look completely different from one athlete to another. None of the athletes in the Brown program look like Breanna Stewart. Weight can also vary based on the frame of the bones and muscle structure, but one person is being told they have to lose weight because their butt is more muscular and larger than someone who has a flat ass… somehow that doesn’t make any sense at all. Just stating that as an example. Most basketball players are tall, but not all and have done well, For example Skylar Diggins-Smith. To the point of the player who commented, players were being played in the Brown women’s program that could not and did not pass the physical fitness tests. ????? How is that? If sports are supposed to meet a certain standard, then explain why these women were playing m, yet did not pass the test. How many of the young ladies that passed the test were not played? The comments that are trying to criticize these young women who have spoken up are upside down. No one wants to hear the bad side of this program. These are the player’s experiences, but of course they have to be lying for naysayers to be comfortable. How are you people making these women’s comments a problem?

  10. The “incredibly toxic environment”was created by a few disgruntled players who were not good enough to actually get on the court, now we must blame the coach!

    • Agree 1000% and that’s the horrible world of cancel culture we live in. Will the Brown Band that cares so much about women be boycotting Bill Clinton’s visit to Brown, or will the be playing Hail to The Chief.

  11. Stop Invalidating Experiences That Aren't Yours says:

    Okay, this is honestly becoming ridiculous. No one is being asked to take a side, no one is being asked to choose who they believe, no one is being asked to disprove one statement or another. This article is PURELY about the band boycotting the basketball games because of the allegations against the coach and the experiences of all of these women, whether they are for or against Behn. It’s that simple, these are their stories and these are the facts for them (because its THEIR experience). None of us can sit here and say that one is wrong or right because, at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure a lot of people in this comment section, including myself, WERE NOT THERE. How many of you can sit down and say that you heard what was said behind closed doors to each of these players? or what was said in the locker room? I’m going to venture to say the majority of you can’t confidently say you know. This story is to be taken as these women’s experiences and we cannot invalidate them, it’s not our place, that’s it. Period.

    All of these women had to go through rigorous coaching and training to get to the D1 level, so I’m pretttyyyy sure that these women know the difference between coaching and abuse. So please think people.

  12. I have a question for Hoops Fan 2. Were you in the locker room? Did you hear some of these comments these women are speaking of? Even better, can you quote something the coach has said to ANY of these women? If not then your comments and apparent “knowledge” of these “disgruntled players” and even the ones who supported Behn isn’t. Worth. Shit. It’s merely a BASELESS opinion.

    If you do have some knowledge of this stuff I mentioned from a first hand perspective, feel free to share those comments with the rest of us commenting, since you seem to know what exactly the fuck is going on.

  13. Basketball Fan says:

    Right on to “Inquiry” . Right on!!! Personal knowledge and experience here is key. If you were not in the locker room, basketball court during practice, the bench during games, in the office when the player and Coach Behn spoke privately, bus rides etc. You don’t know Jack shit about anything, unless someone told you and that’s hearsay. Not valid. So sit down and shut up.

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