Several softball players have left the team over the last three seasons after allegedly being bullied by Head Coach Katie Flynn, according to interviews with five former players and emails reviewed by The Herald.
The coach made disparaging remarks about players’ body weights and created a hostile environment for them during games, the former players said.
Though players and their parents brought their concerns to Director of Athletics Jack Hayes, President Christina Paxson P’19 and other administrators, no substantive action has been taken by the University.
The softball team has been plagued by poor player retention during Flynn’s tenure, now in its third year. Of the team’s 12 underclassmen in 2013 — Flynn’s first season as head coach — only three remain, according to team rosters listed on the Brown Athletics website.
The five players interviewed for this article, who wished to remain anonymous because they feared social and personal repercussions for speaking out, all cited Flynn’s conduct as their primary reason for leaving the team.
Hayes declined to comment on the specific case, citing confidentiality concerns in personnel matters in an email to The Herald. But he wrote generally, “Under no circumstance would we tolerate bullying. We value open communication with members of any sports team, and we approach all questions or concerns carefully, thoughtfully and seriously in line with the values of the institution.”
Flynn also declined to comment for this story, writing in an email to The Herald that Hayes spoke on behalf of the entire Athletics Department.
Paxson did not respond to a request for comment.
Several former players spoke of comments Flynn made about their physical appearances. The students expressed heightened concern about the remarks because one of the team’s former players has an eating disorder.
A former player who is now a senior recalled one incident that occurred while the team was on a trip to California for a game during the 2014 season. After her parents hosted a team dinner at their home, the student said Flynn stood at the front of the team’s bus and said, “She lives a block away from an ice cream shop? That explains a lot.”
Flynn also told other coaches in front of some players that she resembled the Cookie Monster, the student said.
After the student informed Hayes of the first incident, she said he confirmed it with team captains and addressed the matter with Flynn.
Flynn later wrote a brief apology to the player and put it in her mailbox. But the student described the three-sentence note as inadequate.
“The comments she made to me really affected me,” the former player said. “I don’t typically have any issues with my body, but after her comments, I felt pretty shitty about myself.”
The student said Flynn’s comments about her weight were the reason she quit the team.
“I’ve played softball since I was seven years old, and the fact that that’s the note I ended on after playing my entire life hurt,” she said. “I decided that it’s not worth the love of the sport to be told you’re fat in front of your entire team.”
In a March 2014 email to a professor who offered to advise her on the situation, the student wrote, “My experience as a softball player has been ruined by (Flynn). I do not think I can mentally and emotionally play for her any longer.”
The professor replied, “If I made a remark like that to a student in my class, I’d expect to be severely disciplined.”
Another player recalled Flynn making her feel uncomfortable when trying on a uniform.
“I asked for a smaller size, and (Flynn) said ‘no’ and that I was ‘definitely not that size,’” the former player said. “When the pants came, I showed up with the size she allowed me to get, and then she made comments on how they looked like balloon pants.”
In another incident on a team trip to Princeton, a player’s aunt brought the team chocolates. A former player recalled Flynn saying to her teammate’s aunt, “Have you seen our outfielders? They don’t need those.”
Former players said they were also troubled by the hostile environment Flynn created during games.
“People would cry in the dugout,” one said.
During one game, a former player was put in for a teammate who had committed an error, she recalled. “I made all of the plays, and then in my second inning there was a line drive (that) went past me. … I saw (Flynn) throw her clipboard across the dugout,” she said. “That was the last time I played the field all season.”
“I would dread the weekends because of the games. I would detach from my friends on weekends. I would have to mentally prepare to deal with this emotional abuse I knew I would be facing,” the student said. “I have been exponentially happier since quitting the team.”
During Flynn’s second year as coach, several players and their parents contacted Hayes to voice their concerns.
In an email to Flynn explaining her decision to leave the team, one former player detailed experiences that affected her emotional and academic well-being. Referring to Flynn’s remark about the ice cream shop near her home, the student wrote, “You singled me out in front of my peers and publicly humiliated me.”
Despite the volume of criticism from players, many still believe their grievances have not been appropriately addressed.
“We sort of got ignored and were told that we didn’t know what we were talking about,” a former player said. “I talked to Jack Hayes for 45 minutes. … No matter how many facts I told him, he just did not believe me.”
Flynn “is totally undeserving of representing Brown. We should be able to have a better coach or at least one that treats (her) players with respect,” the student added. “It’s one thing to be a bad coach, but if you’re not even going to respect the people you work with every day, … I don’t understand how Brown let that happen.”