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.
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.”
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.