The University of Idaho Office of Civil Rights and Investigations has informed Idaho women’s volleyball players that they can opt out of practices with head coach Chris Gonzalez until an investigation of the program’s culture under Gonzalez and his coaching methods is completed, according to an email obtained by the Southern California News Group.
The OCRI decision comes a day after four Idaho players asked to be excused from practices attended by Gonzales, citing mental health and personal safety concerns. The ruling comes a week after 10 Idaho players asked university president C. Scott Green and athletic director Terry Gawlik to place Gonzalez on leave until an investigation by Thompson & Horton, a Texas-based law firm is completed.
SCNG, in a 9,000-word report published on Dec. 30, detailed dozens of allegations by current and former Idaho players that Gonzalez, a Southern California native and former U.S. national team coach, has routinely bullied and abused players during his two seasons at the Big Sky Conference school.
To date, 12 current or former Idaho players, six parents and three university employees maintain that Gonzalez has bullied and physically, verbally and emotionally abused Vandals players, pressured them to play or practice while injured and denied athletes food throughout his two seasons at Idaho. Gonzalez also allegedly pushed or shoved two players to the ground during practices in 2022 and improperly touched athletes, according to player interviews and university documents
Idaho is scheduled to resume practice on Thursday. Beth Ropski, the case manager assigned by the dean of students to the volleyball case, and Jackie Gharapour Wernz, the OCRI’s interim director, will attend Thursday’s practice, according to multiple emails and a recording of a Tuesday meeting between Gawlik, Ropski and Blaine Eckles, the university’s dean of students, and Vandals players. Ropski later Tuesday told players in an email that she plans “to attend all practices where your coach/assistant coaches will be present.”
“I write to confirm that you and other players on the team may opt out of practice while the investigation is completed,” Wernz, a partner at Thompson & Horton, wrote in an email to the four players on Wednesday night. “This interim support related to the investigation is based on your request on behalf of yourselves and your teammates. This option is available to each individual player on a practice-by-practice basis. There is no requirement to decide now whether to attend any practice or practices moving forward; the option is available if needed.
“Regarding process, if a player knows that she will not attend a practice for a reason related to this interim measure, she should contact Beth, me, the Athletic Director, or one of the assistant coaches by email to let them know. If a player decides at the last minute that she cannot attend for a reason related to this supportive measure, she can just miss practice and send a message as soon as possible letting one of those individuals know that missing practice was intentional. We ask that you communicate regularly with at least one of us regarding your attendance so that we know you are ok and do not need assistance.
“I want to reiterate that I will be at practice tomorrow with Beth. If, at any point during practice, anyone engages in retaliation or other misconduct, including during physical activities, we will be present and will step in to prevent any harm. Although I understand that the coaches’ knowledge of the allegations is concerning, the flip side of that knowledge is that the coaches are on notice that any conduct like that alleged will not be tolerated. They have also been repeatedly notified of their responsibility not to retaliate, including clear definitions of what retaliation includes. As we discussed during our call, the University and OCRI take retaliation seriously and will investigate and respond to any retaliation alleged. I know I can speak for all of us at OCRI that protecting the integrity of our investigation process is of great professional and personal importance, and preventing and responding to retaliation is key to that protection. I understand that these facts may not alleviate your concerns. However, I believe the supportive measures we have put in place will prevent safety concerns from arising during practice.”
‘These are cries for help;’ Players allege Idaho women’s volleyball coach Chris Gonzalez regularly bullied them
Idaho volleyball players ask school to place Chris Gonzalez on leave