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Tennis coach’s resignation followed inquiry into players’ concerns

first_imgSyracuse University looked into concerns raised by members of the women’s tennis team about one month before head coach Luke Jensen resigned last season, according to an email obtained by The Daily Orange.In an announcement about Jensen’s resignation, SU Athletics said that he was returning to “the national tennis arena” to pursue “new opportunities.” Later that day, in an interview with The Daily Orange, Jensen declined to elaborate about the opportunities, but said that it was crucial to step down before the professional season ramped up. The decision, he said, built up over time and was not last minute.The Jan. 1 email sent to the team on behalf of Director of Athletics Daryl Gross mentioned that SU had begun an “inquiry” into concerns raised by members of the team, though it is unclear if the inquiry involved Jensen or contributed to his resignation. Three current Syracuse women’s tennis players, who all agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity for fear of backlash, said they were interviewed by SU’s Title IX compliance officer and sexual harassment officer about their experience on the team at about the same time. Additional emails obtained through five Freedom of Information Act requests show that Jensen was also discussing 2015 matches with opposing coaches as recently as 16 days before his resignation.Various players said that during their time on the team, Jensen made hurtful comments to them, threatened their scholarships or acted in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. One of them said that he rubbed cream on her legs without her permission.Jensen, who resigned three matches into the season, declined to be interviewed for this story. He told The Daily Orange on Jan. 29, the day he resigned, that his departure was unrelated to any alleged wrongdoing.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSU Athletics’ chief communications officer, Joe Giansante, said that the department does not talk about personnel issues with any of its sports or how they are handled.“As stated a year ago, Luke decided to pursue other interests,” Giansante said, speaking on behalf of the entire department. Gross did not return two calls to his cell phone and an email.“His other interests are his, and those are for him to pursue,” Giansante added, saying SU Athletics did not “inquire or get into the minutia of what he decided to pursue.”SU Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Kevin Quinn said in an email he also cannot “discuss personnel matters regarding former employees” because of university policy.Jeff Lashway, the father of a former Syracuse women’s tennis player, said he first raised concerns in September 2013 with the program about tournament fees. He said he initially called Director of Compliance Erlease Wagner and later complained about what he believed to be verbal abuse and inappropriate conduct by Jensen.After feeling like his concerns were not being addressed by the athletic department, he said, he contacted the university administration.In a Jan. 23 email sent on Chancellor Kent Syverud’s behalf to Lashway, Senior Vice President for Human Capital Development Kal Alston wrote that she wanted to assure him that “the University is taking the issues raised about the Tennis program very seriously,” and that it was her understanding that Cynthia Maxwell Curtin, SU’s Title IX compliance officer and sexual harassment officer, had spoken with him earlier to let him know “the investigation was, in the main, complete.” She also wrote in the email that senior leadership was “in the process of doing its analysis and drawing this matter to a conclusion.”That email is dated six days before Jensen’s resignation was announced.It is unclear what the “investigation” involved or if it contributed to Jensen’s resignation. Alston, whose direct line is not listed on the SU directory, did not return four emails for this story.In late December, Curtin reached out to players and then conducted a series of interviews with them.Curtin, one player said, reached out via email in late December, asking her to call.When she did, the player said Curtin told her the call was confidential, that she couldn’t be around anyone during the call and that she would be asked a series of questions about her school year. Curtin then asked if she ever felt offended by players or coaches, the player said. She said no at the time, but called Curtin back in early January while in Florida for a preseason tournament to say that she had been offended by previous comments Jensen had made about her weight.That same player said she told Curtin that on two occasions — once in Toronto and a second time in Syracuse — Jensen rubbed an Icy Hot-like cream on her legs without her permission. She said she felt uncomfortable because he didn’t ask and just told her to sit down before doing it. The player also said Jensen made comments about her weight and told her she had low self-esteem.Curtin did not return five phone calls and two emails for this story.The player said she received the email sent on behalf of Gross on Jan. 1, the day before she arrived for the tournament in Florida.The email outlines measures to “promote a successful and positive experience” on the road trip:— “The attendance of a senior member of the Athletic administration throughout the Florida trip”Two players said that Senior Associate Athletics Director Jamie Mullin was with the team on the trip.— Coaches “being instructed to ensure that their interactions with the student-athletes reflect best practices in keeping with the values of Syracuse University”— “Modifications of housing arrangements to ensure they are gender appropriate. Accordingly, Coach Jensen will be housed in a nearby residence to the house where the team will stay”Mullin and Jensen were the only men on the following trip, two players said.A second player said Jensen was more than an intense coach. He yelled over small things, she said, calling players “worthless” and saying they did not deserve to be on the team. Jensen yelled at her because she wore the wrong socks to a practice, for example, she said.A third player corroborated similar overall experiences, but did not make herself available for more specific follow-ups.“When he got mad at us for the stupidest things, he would threaten our scholarship,” the second player said. The next moment, she said, Jensen would say, “You know, I’m just being hard on you. I love you. I want the best for you.”Emily Harman, who played at SU from 2009–12, said she never heard Jensen use any negative language toward anyone. Harman said she was just reminded that she had to stay in shape and keep up her grades.“There was never ever a moment where I was like, ‘I feel abused with the scholarship over my head,’” Harman said. “There was never, ever that point in time. It was just simple, very simple expectations from us.”Sophia Dzulynsky, who transferred to Quinnipiac University following her freshman year in 2013, said the team environment might have been right if someone was looking to enter professional tennis.“It was more like work to play, it was just really, really rough,” she said. “It’s not like I hated it there, it’s just not what I was looking for in college.”Dzulynsky said she had been thinking about transferring, and shortly before school ended, Jensen told her she’d be better off somewhere else. She said her experience at Quinnipiac has been “100-times” better.At 48, Jensen remains most famous for his 1993 French Open doubles title. Known as “Dual Hand Luke” because he could serve with both hands and play ambidextrously, Jensen was on the ATP Tour from 1987–2005 and was ranked No. 6 in the world in doubles at the height of his career.Jensen knew Gross from their time at the University of Southern California in the mid-1980s and was named the head coach at Syracuse on Aug. 29, 2006. He posted a record of 106-57 in just more than seven seasons. His best season came in 2009–10, when the Orange won a program record 20 matches.During his time as head tennis coach, Jensen made it a point to only recruit American players. He also stressed that his program was meant for players who wanted to enter professional tennis. Jensen continues to work at the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Down syndrome, which he has been involved with since 2002, founder Vince Schmidt said.It’s not the first time issues have surfaced within the women’s tennis program. Robert “Mac” Gifford, who went 83-64 in seven seasons with the team, took over for Jesse Dwire in 1999 after Dwire resigned following a sexual harassment scandal.Two former players sued Dwire and SU for $762 million in 1998, alleging he gave players inappropriate full-body massages and made sexist comments on a regular basis. The lawsuit was settled out of court the next year and the amount was never disclosed. Dwire died in 2003 at 56.– 30 –To read all of the emails mentioned in this article, visit issuu.com/dailyorange. Comments Published on December 2, 2014 at 7:00 am Contact Jacob: [email protected] | @Jacob_Klinger_ Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more