The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 22, 2021 1:00 am

PFW coach denies abuse claims

Her statement says investigations cleared her

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue Fort Wayne women's basketball coach Niecee Nelson issued an extensive letter Thursday acknowledging and denying the numerous allegations of verbal and mental abuse of players described in stories first published by the IndyStar on Wednesday and The Journal Gazette on Thursday. 

“I am, of course, aware of the allegations directed at me nearly two years ago – accusations I was cleared of after separate investigations conducted by the athletic department and the university's Office of Institutional Equity,” Nelson wrote. “Regrettably, as result of renewed efforts to tarnish my name and reputation through the media, I feel compelled to publicly defend myself from these attacks. I have heard and read what my accusers, their parents, and their lawyer have said about me. While I respect these women and their right to speak out, I deny that I have ever physically, mentally or emotionally abused anyone in our program. I fully understand my obligations as a coach and as an educator to provide the services that these student athletes and our support staff require to keep them physically and mentally healthy.”

Nelson went on to write that allegations of bullying and weight-shaming “bear no resemblance to the experiences provided in our program.” She wrote that medical professionals made the medical decisions for all players, and denied that she withheld medical treatment or shamed players who were in need of medical attention. 

Nelson again referred to her suspension, the school's investigation and her return to her role in 2019, citing that event and its coverage in local media as evidence that the school had not been involved in a “cover up.”

“Finally, I want to make clear that although I deny that I abused these women, I did not dismiss their perspective,” Nelson wrote. “To the contrary, I take very seriously what they, their parents, and their attorney have written about me. I have and will continue to reflect on those statements and learn from them. In my fifth year as a Division I head coach, I strive to be an effective leader, teacher, and mentor to women who strive to meet their fullest potential in the classroom, in the community, and on the court.”

Purdue Fort Wayne also issued a statement, that reads in full:

“Purdue Fort Wayne Athletics' top priority is the health and well-being of its student athletes. Because the allegations brought to the attention of the athletic department in late 2018 raised general concerns of fair treatment, they were also referred to the university's Office of Institutional Equity, which conducted an additional review of the matter, interviewing each student athlete and staff member associated with the women's basketball program. Coach Nelson was placed on administrative leave during the investigation and reinstated to her position after the university determined that she had not violated university policy. Coach Nelson is very aware of the concerns raised by some of her students and has worked closely with Athletics leadership to maintain a positive team environment and encourage clear lines of communication over the past 23 months.”

A current PFW women's basketball player, who requested anonymity contacted The Journal Gazette on Thursday, writing that she “has seen a major positive change in my life,” since joining the PFW program.

“I have seen Coach Nelson drop EVERYTHING (her own family life and personal struggles) to be there for whoever needs her at any given time, day or night,” the player wrote (emphasis her own). “I know every person has different perspectives and feelings and I'm not here to negate anyone or their experiences, but in my time at the University I have seen Coach Nelson and her staff be nothing but professional, kind, and enthusiastic.”

Emily Hatch, a former University of San Diego basketball player who played for the Toreros from 2007 through 2010, also wrote to both the IndyStar and The Journal Gazette to say that her experience with Nelson, who was at the time an assistant coach for San Diego, was vastly different from the allegations of abuse detailed in a 65-page document submitted to the university by attorney Martin Greenberg in May. She is representative of several of Nelson's former players who have contacted The Journal Gazette to defend the coach. 

“It is no secret that Division I basketball requires a lot out of its players – both physically and mentally. However, through my four years under Niecee's supervision, my experience was one of positivity and passion” Hatch wrote. “What I remember most was the time she dedicated to understanding me both as a player and most importantly, as a human. And to me, that is what made, and continues to make me value Niecee has a coach, mentor and friend.

“During my junior year in college, my mother became ill and at the same time, my grandma passed away. On top of it all, I was forced to sit out due to an injury. To say that I was going through mental struggles is an understatement. However, I couldn't have gotten through that year without Niecee. I am forever grateful for her emotional support during this time and I know my family also felt comfort knowing I had a system of support that could lift me up.”

Also on Thursday, fellow Horizon League member Detroit Mercy announced that the women's basketball team was canceling the rest of its season. The news comes after the Detroit Free Press and other outlets obtained a letter from 14 players and parents alleging mistreatment of players and possible NCAA violations by first-year coach AnnMarie Gilbert. According to the Free Press, the letter was submitted to the Detroit Mercy Athletic Director Robert Vowels Jr. on Sunday.

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