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University: track & field matters were handled ‘appropriately’

After university staff reviewed last month’s Temple News investigation of the track & field program, a Temple spokesperson said the school responded “appropriately.”

In a statement released Monday in response to last month’s Temple News investigative report, the university denied wrongdoing in its handling of student concerns regarding the track & field program.

“University staff, including counsel, have reviewed the matters described in The Temple News story, and believe that the university responded appropriately,” Ray Betzner, associate vice president for executive communications said in a statement.

When asked for specifics on how Temple responded to student complaints, Betzner declined to comment further. Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor told the Inquirer in late August that the university was investigating The Temple News’ report. At the time, the university’s communications department wouldn’t provide details on O’Connor’s claims that an internal investigation was taking place. President Theobald and Athletic Director Kevin Clark did not comment on the findings of The Temple News investigation, both before and after its release.

The Temple News published its seven-month investigation on Aug. 26 – a report that found a years-long pattern of abuse in the men’s and women’s track & field program that led to the physical and mental deterioration of several student-athletes.

The investigation stated that more than a dozen students accused former track & field head coach Eric Mobley of verbal abuse, intimidation and dereliction of his coaching duties, among a myriad of other questionable or unethical complaints. The report also found that the program operated without proper safety equipment, which led to at least one serious injury. In Spring 2013, former star runner Victoria Gocht was struck by a flying discus – ending her career. At the time and through the end of this past season, the program did not use a cage during practices, as recommended by the NCAA.

Members of the track & field teams met with Senior Associate Athletic Director Foley at least three times since 2011 in efforts to alleviate severe team issues, including many that involved former head coach Eric Mobley. In one of the meetings, athletes say, dozens of team members approached Foley in May 2013 to voice concerns about Mobley – including his verbal abuse and mismanagement of the program. Despite Foley listening to their concerns, multiple students at the meeting recall her informing the group that Mobley would not be fired.

Mobley remained with the university for another season, and during that time a student-athlete said she developed suicidal thoughts largely due to stress the team caused. Mobley’s resignation was announced in early June. The university won’t comment on the circumstances regarding his exit.

In a previous statement released on Aug. 27, Betzner acknowledged that students had complained about the track & field program following the 2010-11 season, but specified only by saying that two of the concerns involved “communication” and “team management” and that none of them involved “sexual harassment, gender inequality or sexual misconduct.” In the statement, Betzner said the concerns were addressed through the involvement of various administrative offices, student-athletes and coaches.

Betzner did not say which, if any, of the concerns were resolved prior to Mobley’s resignation. It’s unclear whether Foley notified Clark or President Theobald of student concerns regarding the track & field program. As of July 1, Foley no longer oversees the track & field program. She continues to administrate women’s basketball, crew, rowing and women’s volleyball.

The Temple News’ investigation was prompted after an interview with former thrower Ebony Moore – who filed a civil-action lawsuit in June 2013 against the university, Mobley and Foley, seeking $10 million in damages on claims of harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. This past May, a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss those claims, likely ensuring trial or settlement in the case.

Moore said she informed Foley of how the mistreatment she experienced while competing for Mobley and the track & field program nearly led her to commit suicide after an April 2011 practice. Her scholarship was revoked later that year.

Emails obtained by The Temple News show Temple’s former Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw and former President Ann Weaver Hart were sent notification in 2011 of Moore’s claims of abuse and sexual harassment. Betzner said in the Aug. 27 statement that the university took Moore’s complaints seriously and conducted an investigation into the matter – one that included meetings with Moore, Moore’s family and coaches.

Betzner added that the university found Moore’s claims to be uncorroborated, but he didn’t state whether other student-athletes besides Moore were consulted or approached during the course of the investigation. He attributed Moore’s revoked scholarship to her inability to “participate fully in team activities.”

Moore missed the team’s final three regular season meets of the 2011 outdoor season after, according to interviews with members of her family, she was hospitalized due to her near-suicide attempt.

Avery Maehrer can be reached at avery.maehrer@temple.edu or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.

Joey Cranney contributed reporting.

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