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UMKC softball players defend coach as accusers stand by claims of sexual harassment

UMKC softball players say they were sexually harassed by their coach

UMKC softball players and parents accuse assistant coach of sexual harassment: walking in the locker room as they dressed, kissing them, telling an offensive joke. Officials spoke to him, but he is still there.
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UMKC softball players and parents accuse assistant coach of sexual harassment: walking in the locker room as they dressed, kissing them, telling an offensive joke. Officials spoke to him, but he is still there.

University of Missouri-Kansas City softball players are coming out in support of embattled assistant coach Greg Bachkora, accused of sexual harassment by former players.

But the three women who had complained about Bachkora to university officials said Wednesday they are defending their allegations, even as some of their former teammates are pressuring them to recant.

Twenty-five current and former UMKC softball players signed a letter to university faculty, students and community members saying, “Coach Bach is very important to us and our team. There is no one that cares more about our well-being, lives, jobs, etc. than him. We cannot express our gratitude for him nor describe to any extent how much he means to us on paper, but we hope to be heard nevertheless.”

The letter goes on to say, “Never have any of us felt uncomfortable or uneasy about either of our coaches, especially in an inappropriate, sexual manner.”

In May, the three former players, who have since left the university, told officials that Bachkora repeatedly entered the team’s locker room while women were dressing, claiming he needed to use the microwave. They said he had also kissed some of the players and once joked in front of them about female genitalia.

The Star reported their accusations on Sunday.

“I stand by my story,” one of the players who had brought the allegations told The Star on Wednesday. “A lot of girls have texted me. But he did those things.” She said many of the current players who are defending Bachkora, “those girls did not play on the team the spring season when all of this was going down.”

A father of one of the three former players said he and his daughter would not bow to pressure.

“She said what she said and she stands behind that,” the father said. “The girls said something because they were uncomfortable. That is why they wanted something done. I don’t think there is anything else to say.”

The Star does not identify the alleged victims of sexual harassment unless they agree to be named. Their parents are not named to protect the women’s identities.

According to a university Title IX report, provided to The Star in redacted form, Bachkora admitted to kissing the women but said it was done “in a fatherly, non-sexual manner.” He also admitted to telling an inappropriate joke. He said he entered the locker room “multiple times” — sometimes to get equipment, sometime to use the microwave oven — but said he announced his presence and never saw any of the women undressed.

The women told The Star his announcements came only after he was in the room.

The university talked to Bachkora about his behavior, put a report in his employee record and bought him and other staff another microwave.

On Monday, several players expressed support for Bachkora at a Student Government Association meeting.

On Tuesday, the former players said, pressure mounted from current players to change their story after UMKC Athletic Director Brandon Martin announced that Bachkora volunteered to a “short leave of absence.”

They said current players texted them, asking that they say The Star had twisted their words and inviting them to add their names to the letter signed by 25 players.

Earlier, before The Star’s story was published, head coach Meredith Smith Neal asked team members not to talk with The Star for its story, one player said. The player also said Bachkora implored them to say positive things about him if The Star contacted them.

Also on Tuesday, UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, in a letter to the university community, defended the way UMKC’s former Title IX coordinator, Mikah Thompson, handled the complaints, saying Thompson “determined that the complaints involved isolated incidents that demonstrated poor judgment and inappropriate actions but did not rise to the level of a policy violation.”

Agrawal also said he supports the way the athletic director is handling fallout from the story. He said that university officials spoke with members of the UMKC softball team, “and no further complaints about this coach have been received by the university.”

The letter signed by 25 current and former players addressed statements from one player in The Star’s story who said the coach had recently walked in the locker room as a teammate was showering. The letter said that because of the way the locker room is configured, “it is impossible for anyone to be interrupted or seen without their knowledge.”

The letter also included a statement from former player Abigail Taylor, also known as Abigail Johnson, who said she had told The Star favorable things about Bachkora but was not included in the story.

The Star had planned to use that information without identifying her, as she requested, but her mother later called and asked that her daughter’s comments be excluded.

The story paraphrased comments from supporters who did not want to be quoted publicly, saying that they had never felt uncomfortable around Bachkora and that he had been very helpful to the team.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.

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