ATLANTA — On Tuesday afternoon, just hours after Georgia Tech fired women's basketball coach MaChelle Joseph, 11Alive News received a copy of the "Internal Review Investigation Report" on Joseph (through a FOIA request/Open Records Act), which was conducted by the investigative firm of Littler Mendelson P.C. Employment and Labor Law Solutions Worldwide.
Joseph's attorney, Lisa Banks, issued a statement saying, "As parts of this ‘confidential report’ regarding MaChelle Joseph are inevitably leaked, be careful not to believe everything you read or everything the school is saying. We are confident the truth will emerge and Coach Joseph will be fully vindicated.”
Below are some of the most noteworthy and/or troubling takeaways from Littler Mendelson's independent investigative report ... presented in verbatim excerpts here and without any editorial comments from 11Alive News.
SUBHEAD: Scope of Investigation and Investigation Process
The Investigation consisted of a review of selected documents as well as interviews of individuals currently or formerly associated with the Women's Basketball program.
The Investigator completed forty (40) interviews, which were almost exclusively conducted in person at various locations on the Georgia Tech campus.1
During the course of the investigation, the Investigator interviewed:
Thirteen (13) current players on the Women’s Basketball team;
Four (4) former players from the Women’s Basketball team;
Seven (7) administrative support staff, including Women's Basketball program staff, team trainer, strength and conditioning coach, sports information liaison, and academic advisor;
Five (5) current assistant or graduate assistant coaches;
Three (3) parents of current or former players;
Four (4) other individuals associated with the team reported to have relevant information, including a team physician, a team bus driver, and student managers;
Three (3) performance or team consultants retained by the program to observe and work with the program during the 2018-2019 season;3 and Head Women’s Basketball Coach MaChelle Joseph.
SUBHEAD: Part 3 of the Introduction
Both Coach Joseph and her assistant coaches describe her coaching style as demanding. Coach Joseph was described as fiery, passionate, and intense. Assistant coaches reported that Coach Joseph can be confrontational and is a firm believer in accountability. During the course of the investigation, several interviewees indicated their strong belief that Coach Joseph cares about her players.
However, some interviewees also expressed concerns that Coach Joseph does not know how to appropriately tailor her message to meet the needs of that particular student athlete. One long-standing staff member indicated that Joseph does not know how to “channel her negative energy” or tone down the intensity during her interactions with players, coaches, and staff members.
I asked Coach Joseph and her assistants to differentiate between tough but acceptable coaching, and conduct that would go beyond the scope of acceptable coaching. Coach Joseph indicated that any action taken "to be mean" would be over the line.
Assistant Coaches identified the following as conduct that would constitute unacceptable behavior in a coaching setting:
(1) throwing things at or hitting a player;
(2) making someone feel demeaned;
(3) personalizing criticism of a player or making criticisms regarding things that have nothing to do with basketball;
(4) telling a player that she is "f***ing stupid" or "f***ing dumb";
(5) excessive and continuous use of profanity specifically directed at a player;
(6) disrespecting or humiliating a player; and
(7) repeatedly calling a student athlete a "bi***" and/or "pu***."
RESULTS OF FACT INVESTIGATION
SUBHEAD: Relationship between Coach Joseph and the Georgia Tech players
When asked who they trust in the program, at least nine (9) student athletes indicated that they cannot trust any member of the coaching staff. Of those nine, two indicated that they do trust some members of the Women’s Basketball administrative staff, but none of the coaches.
A few players indicated that they trusted one assistant coach, and one player indicated that she trusted two of the assistant coaches. None of the interviewees indicated that they trusted Coach Joseph.
SUBHEAD: Feelings associated with being part of the program
When asked to describe their general feelings associated with the program and working with Coach Joseph, players described feeling insecure, nervous, anxious, and scared at various points in the season and in their careers.
Others described the environment as "toxic," "suffocating," "draining and miserable," and "unhealthy."
Several players also indicated that they no longer have the same passion for the game that they once had. One player described a complete loss of the joy of the game, even after a team victory. Two players specifically stated that they no longer want to be near the gym. Other players described a situation where they "Fake It To Make It," in which they described faking being happy during activities associated with the team in order to make the time more passable.
One player stated that she felt "anxious" just by virtue of smelling Coach Joseph's perfume, and stated that she was so "tense" that she was not playing up to her potential.
When asked to identify the source of their feelings, the majority specifically identified Coach Joseph and the culture she has created around the team.
One player specifically identified Coach Joseph’s "intense" and "extreme" yelling as the cause of her feelings. Another attributed the feelings to how difficult it is to please Coach Joseph, the team's regular inability to do so, and Coach Joseph's reactions to those situations.
SUBHEAD: Concerns regarding player well-being
Multiple student athletes indicated that they or one or more of their teammates regularly cried as a result of their involvement with the team, which they specifically attributed to Coach Joseph.
One player indicated that whenever a player is "in it," there are concerns for her well-being. The "it" was described as significant scrutiny and "targeting" by Coach Joseph during which the player’s actions are under a figurative microscope.
Another player described it as Coach Joseph being "laser focused" on that player and any perceived mistake or lack of proper attitude or energy. During that time, any perceived issues or mistakes by that player are amplified and generally result in what they describe as extreme cursing and yelling by Coach Joseph.
That player described "feeling lost mentally" during the time she was subject to increased scrutiny by Coach Joseph. Another player described being at "a breaking point" during her time under the microscope, and another reported feeling like she was going to have a panic attack.
Multiple players indicated that they were scared for their teammates when they were being scrutinized, and expressed fear that they might face similar treatment in the future. A more senior player indicated that "everyone has their day," where Coach Joseph is "laser focused" on that player’s energy, mistakes, attitude, etc.
Generally, the players indicated that such intense scrutiny is reserved for upperclass players, but due to the fact that this year’s team is very young, several first and second year players reported regularly being the focus of Coach Joseph’s ire.
Another player indicated that members of her family expressed concern regarding her well-being, because they had never heard her cry that much.
Another player reported that Coach Joseph “broke [her] down” during halftime of a game. There, the player stated that Coach Joseph got in her face and was screaming at her at halftime, all while she was sobbing as a result.
Multiple staff members also expressed concerns for the mental and emotional well-being of players. Several staff members indicated their opinion that Coach Joseph engaged in conduct that they considered "verbal abuse" and bullying.
They indicated that it was apparent that the players were afraid of Joseph and exhibited signs of high stress and anxiety. Several staff members expressed specific concerns regarding the players' physical manifestations of the stress and anxiety.
One staff member indicated that players were experiencing sleep disturbances, which affected performance. Another staff member reported player weight loss during particularly "bad weeks" with the team.
SUBHEAD: Allegations of physical mistreatment
Several players raised concerns that they felt pressured or pushed to play by Coach Joseph in spite of an injury or to return too soon after an injury. These concerns were echoed by Georgia Tech employees with responsibility for player medical treatment.
Coach Joseph denied such allegations. The medical staff interviewed confirmed that they had final authority over player medical decisions, but could not provide an opinion as to whether Joseph attempted to influence how a player reported her symptoms regarding any specific injury. The Investigator did not review any medical records, so he was unable to attempt to confirm whether any of those specific allegations are accurate.
SUBHEAD: Allegations of Coach Joseph trying to hit a player with an object
At least five players described an incident in which they thought Coach Joseph was going to hit a player with a clipboard during a recent game. They described the situation during a game in which Joseph "was in their faces" and screaming at them.
During the incident, they alleged that Coach Joseph swung her clipboard toward the ground and it passed only a few inches from a player's face. The player-at-issue stated that she jumped back to avoid being hit. Several players reported feeling like the clipboard was going to hit the player. Coach Joseph denied engaging in any type of physical abuse.
Likewise, Georgia Tech employees interviewed did not raise any issues regarding physical mistreatment. Based on the lack of evidence regarding Coach Joseph's purported intent in nearly hitting the player, the Investigator was unable to verify this claim.
SUBHEAD: Players feeling pressured to play, in spite of injury
Several other players likewise reported feeling pressured to play in spite of being sick or injured. One stated that her (ITEM REDACTED) was painful and swollen and sought treatment before practice as a result.
During practice, the player felt like Joseph pressed her to play harder and called her “soft” when she could not do so or complained about (ITEM REDACTED). Another player reported feeling pressured to play despite a (ITEM REDACTED) injury and stated that Joseph accused her of faking the injury.
Many players reported that when they or a teammate reported being sick or hurt in practice or a game, Coach Joseph questioned whether they were "faking" their injuries or that their complaints were labeled an "excuse" by Coach Joseph.
SUBHEAD: Allegations of emotional or mental mistreatment
Every player interviewed reported concerns regarding alleged emotional or mental mistreatment by Coach Joseph. The players described the environment around the team as "toxic," "suffocating," "unhealthy" and "hostile," which they attributed to player treatment by Joseph.
The players described Coach Joseph’s conduct as "bullying" and emotionally, mentally, and verbally "abusive." Specifically, players indicated that they feel "targeted" by Coach Joseph for blame and extreme scrutiny on all aspects of them as both a person and player.
As a result, whenever that player is under scrutiny on that particular day, they are regularly and loudly criticized on all topics and aspects of their behavior. Such scrutiny is not limited to a woman’s play, but will range from being scrutinized regarding their personal lives, their attitude, and their energy, in addition to any issues or concerns with their actual play.
SUBHEAD: Allegations of insulting, demeaning and belittling behavior
Players reported that they were subject to "daily belittlement" by Coach Joseph in team practices and meetings. Players reported being insulted and called derogatory and demeaning names on a daily basis.
Some of the comments attributed to Coach Joseph include calling players: “B***h” and telling a player(s) that they are someone's "little b***h"
- "F***ing stupid"
- "F***ing idiot"
- "Cancer of the team"
- A "waste"
- A “piece of trash"
- "Juvenile delinquent"
- Calling a player a "wh***" and accusing her of having sex with everyone on campus
- Telling a player that she would be in jail if not for Coach Joseph
Coach Joseph admitted to yelling at her players on occasion and cursing in games, practices and team meetings. However, Joseph denied engaging in any conduct that could be construed as emotional or mental abuse. Similarly, several assistant coaches stated they were unaware of any student-athlete complaints regarding mistreatment of any kind.
SUBHEAD: Allegations of manipulation and ostracizing players
Players also described several situations in which they felt that Coach Joseph lied to them. One such incident involved a team social event off-campus. The assistant coaches would not give one particular player a ride to the event, and the player was reportedly told at the last minute that she had study hall. The player stated that her study hall was not previously on her schedule and was added last minute, which she believed to be an attempt to keep her away from the team event.
However, the other players reported being told by Coach Joseph during a Captain’s meeting that the player did not want to attend the event with them, which led to question why their teammate did not want to spend time with them. The player felt ostracized from the team in that setting due to the actions of Coach Joseph and the assistant coaches. ....
Lastly, players described feelings of isolation from their teammates and from the rest of the Athletic Department. They reported being repeatedly told by Coach Joseph that central athletic administration cannot be trusted.
Specifically, players are told not to trust compliance staff, Joeleen Akin, and other administrators who are not part of the program. This, in addition to actions by Coach Joseph which ostracize certain players and sow seeds of distrust among the team, creates a perception that they cannot trust anyone. Administrative support staff, including performance, medical, and academic staff, report that players do not trust them as a result, which has impacted their ability to provide services to student athletes.
Georgia Tech staff members corroborated player complaints regarding being regularly blamed for the team’s problems. At least one interviewed staff member reported observing Coach Joseph specifically targeting and blaming one player for a team issue and Joseph proclaiming that it was “all your fault” to the player, who ran away crying.
Coach Joseph denied engaging in any conduct that could be considered manipulative and denied ever lying to her players. In addition to the issues outlined above, numerous students raised concerns regarding Coach Joseph engaging in what they described as manipulative conduct, assigning blame to certain players for issues with the team, pitting players against one another, and ostracizing certain players through her actions and comments to the team.
These actions have fostered a further sense of distrust between the players and the coaching staff.
SUBHEAD: Allegations of intimidation, threats and/or retaliation
The Investigator generally found little evidence of conduct that would constitute threats or retaliation in the traditional sense. Players described Coach Joseph threatening to take a player's scholarship away or subject the team or certain players to increased conditioning for poor performance or other issues.
However, the Investigator did not find information to suggest these alleged "threats" were significantly different than coaches in other sports threatening to take a scholarship away. Several players noted that Coach Joseph made threats to take one particular player’s scholarship away and then suggested the player would have to go back to a home environment that was not particularly stable.
The Investigator does not have sufficient information or context to determine whether such statements would be inappropriate in a competitive coaching context.
SUBHEAD: Concerns regarding involvement of Dr. Belen Gutter and Georgia Tech donors
In addition to the issues addressed above, Littler Mendelson was also asked to investigate any issues or concerns regarding the involvement of Dr. Belen Gutter or Georgia Tech donors with the team. Dr. Gutter is a licensed psychologist who has worked with Coach Joseph and the program for a number of years. Dr. Gutter also reportedly works with other sports and athletes within the Georgia Tech Athletic Association.
1. Player Concerns Regarding Dr. Gutter and Confidentiality
During interviews, several players indicated that they felt that information shared with Dr. Gutter was not kept confidential and was shared by Dr. Gutter with Coach Joseph, or other members of the Women’s Basketball staff. A number of players indicated that at various times Joseph or other members of the staff suggested or strongly encouraged them to see Dr. Gutter for various issues, including anger management, family issues, mental health issues, or other concerns.
Interviewees indicated that meetings with Dr. Gutter were generally held in the Women’s Basketball program offices, often in a coach’s office. No player indicated that any coaches were present for their meetings with Dr. Gutter. Players indicated that at the outset of their meetings with Dr. Gutter they were provided assurances regarding the confidentiality of their discussions.
Specifically, two players recounted incidents in which they told things to Dr. Gutter in confidence, after which the concerns they discussed were allegedly repeated back almost verbatim to them by Coach Joseph. The players indicated that Coach Joseph would identify to the team in a practice or game setting the very concern that they raised, with the expectation of confidentiality, alone to Dr. Gutter. For example, one player reported that she indicated to Dr. Gutter that she often felt "targeted" by Coach Joseph.
Later, in a team setting, the player reported that Coach Joseph said something to the effect of, "[i]t’s not like you're being targeted." The players could not confirm that Dr. Gutter relayed what they shared in confidence to Dr. Gutter, but they strongly suspected that it did occur.
Several other players indicated that they intentionally held back information or provided misinformation due to concerns regarding confidentiality. Another player indicated that she lost trust in Dr. Gutter after she started soliciting information from the student athlete about her teammates. At least half of the players interviewed indicated that they had concerns regarding confidentiality and did not trust Dr. Gutter. Despite these accounts, several other players interviewed indicated that they felt information shared with Dr. Gutter was kept confidential.
During interviews with Georgia Tech staff members, one staff member recalled an incident during a meeting in which Coach Joseph indicated that Dr. Gutter told her something about a player. However, the Investigator was unclear if what may have been conveyed by Dr. Gutter was her impression or something shared in confidence by the student athlete. During the Investigator’s interview with Coach Joseph, she provided assurances that all information shared with Dr. Gutter is kept in strictest of confidence, and she has never received or solicited confidential information from Dr. Gutter.
Based upon the conflicting accounts, the Investigator was unable to confirm or deny whether the concerns raised regarding confidentiality have merit. However, there is a general perception among a majority of the players interviewed that information is not kept confidential such that the continued use of Dr. Gutter may not meet desired purpose(s).
2. Involvement of team donors
During the course of the Investigation, several players raised concerns regarding the level of involvement of team donors with the program. Players indicated that they felt certain donors were provided information about their personal lives that they felt should have been kept confidential. Specifically, players feel that donors are provided access to information regarding their academics, discipline, and personal lives that should be maintained as confidential within the program staff.
Others indicated that they are expected to be accountable to the donors in addition to the coaching staff. One player recalled an incident in which one donor approached a group of players on a trip and questioned the players about where they were going. When the player indicated that they were going to see the trainer for treatment, the donor accused them of going to the pool / beach and lifted the shirt of one player to check if she was wearing a swimsuit under her shirt. On one occasion, the donor reportedly said to the players, "I'm watching you even if Coach Jo[seph] isn’t here ..."
Despite multiple players indicating concerns with the level of donor involvement, the Investigator was unable to evaluate whether such actions are inconsistent with the actions of donors of other athletic teams or programs. Further, none of the alleged actions identified were directly attributable to Coach Joseph or any other specific member of the Women’s Basketball program staff.