Twenty-two people associated with the Purdue University at Fort Wayne women’s basketball program have made allegations of emotional abuse and bullying against head coach Niecee Nelson, The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday. Those 22 include 14 players, six parents, an assistant coach and an athletic trainer, all of whom contributed to a 71-page document outlining their experiences that was delivered to Purdue officials in May.
The document accuses Nelson of forcing players to play through injury and when sick, denying food as punishment, mocking players for depression or perceived weight gain, withholding medical care and pressuring players to go on antidepressants and other medications, and locking a player behind closed doors while she cried and asked to leave. The document alleges that during Nelson’s tenure, three former players have been referred to mental health services for self-harm and others attempted or contemplated committing suicide. An athletic trainer with the program also alleged that Nelson’s behavior led her to self-harm. Eventually the trainer attempted suicide and resigned from the program.
The document was compiled by lawyer Martin Greenberg, who was hired by the players and parents. Greenberg, who has worked on 20 major sports abuse cases in two decades, said the Purdue-Fort Wayne case is staggering and represents the highest number of parents and athletes alleging abuse of any case he had been part of.
Greenberg said the university’s lawyer told him the institution was looking into the issue, but there has been no change since the document was submitted in May. The document encourages an independent investigation, but Greenberg said further legal action may be taken if Purdue-Fort Wayne does not “do the right thing.”
To the Star, the National Collegiate Athletics Association declined to comment on Nelson. No infractions are found under Nelson’s name on the NCAA website.
Purdue University president Mitch Daniels, who received the document, declined an interview request from the Star.
Nelson, in an email statement to the paper, said she only had players’ best interests at heart.
“While I respect these women and their right to speak out, I deny that I have ever physically, mentally or emotionally abused any player in our program,” she wrote. “I fully understand my obligations as a coach and as an educator to provide the services that these student athletes require to keep them physically and mentally healthy.”