The Missouri softball team continues to play hard ball with Tigers athletic director Mack Rhoades.
The softball team’s four-player unity council, which announced a protest of the university’s investigation into coach Ehren Earleywine last weekend, released a second statement Thursday that clarifies and expands on its actions.
“There is a motto here at MU known as ‘See it, Hear it, Own it,’” the statement read, in part. “Student-athletes are expected to speak up when they see someone being treated unfairly. We believe the administration should be held to the same standard, and should take action to put an end to Mack Rhoades’s long road of lies and hidden agendas.
“It is not fair to our coaches, players, and anyone that supports MU to let Mack Rhoades continue to undermine our athletic department and university.”
Meanwhile, Rhoades defended his investigation Thursday during an interview with KTGR (103.1 FM) in Columbia. He reiterated that serious allegations were made from persons inside and outside the program.
“We have a responsibility to investigate to us what was brought to us … not by just one person, not just two people but several,” he said.
In addition to its tough talk against Rhoades, the softball team’s unity council provided new details of the investigation from its perspective.
The unity council says it consulted an attorney after a series of university-mandated interviews of softball players in early April. The attorney drafted a May 4 letter to Rhoades that sough clarification of Earleywine’s future with the program.
According to the unity council, the athletic department responded by saying players would be notified at the appropriate time. The softball team moved forward with a public protest before a May 7 game.
“Publicly exposing Mack Rhoades’s attack … on Coach Earlywine and our program was our last resort, but it has become clear to us that it is one-hundred percent necessary,” the unity council’s statement read.
The statements were included in an email sent by the unity council to The Star, which contained a timeline of events from the players’ perspective regarding the investigation and a copy of a letter signed by the “University of Missouri Softball Unity Council” that was sent to Rhoades on April 7. Earleywine’s last name is misspelled throughout the two documents.
According to the timeline, two MU executive associate athletic directors — Tim Hickman, who is the administrator in charge of softball, and Mary Ann Austin, who oversees compliance — told players after an April 3 game against Tennessee that the university would be conducting mandatory player interviews.
Those interviews, which the unity council referred to as “interrogations,” took place April 5 with three members of the university staff, who were not identified in the documents. The members of the unity council also did not identify themselves in the documents, but Earleywine has publicly identified them as senior shortstop Sami Fagan, junior left fielder Natalie Fleming, sophomore infielder Paige Bange and freshman infielder Jolie Duffner.
“Unless someone was in the room being badgered by University staff or experienced the intimidation and manipulation that has been constantly forced upon our players and staff, it will be hard to truly understand,” the unity council’s statement read.
Two days later, the unity council sent a letter to Rhoades, “expressing the player’s concerns after being interrogated by the Athletic Department.”
That letter, dated April 7, acknowledged complaints filed by at least one teammate about Earleywine and his coaching style, but urged Rhoades to “consider the sources of these complaints and take note that while these individuals may claim that they were somehow offended by Coach E’s actions, it is our understanding that these claims are being made not out of true concern, but with the motivation of getting Coach terminated.”
The letter also acknowledged a complaint that Earleywine “is sexist or disrespectful to women,” an allegation the unity council called “absolutely absurd.”
In the letter, the unity council claims that the allegations of abuse were made by players disgruntled with their performance and playing time.
It recounts a “blatantly disrespectful” encounter with an unnamed Tigers player — identified to The Star as Staley graduate Sara Harvey — during a team meeting Earleywine had called to allow players to voice concerns about his coaching style.
Earleywine didn’t dismiss the player after the heated exchange, according to the letter, but did after she failed to comply with a recommendation from the unity council to issue an apology in writing.
Reached by The Star on Wednesday, Harvey declined to comment about her dismissal or the investigation.
According to the timeline, the unity council met with Rhoades on April 12 and he met with the entire team May 9, after the team’s protest went public.
The unity council’s timeline also includes an item that says Tigers pitching coach Doug Gillis was briefly suspended before the team’s SEC Tournament game in Starkville, Miss. It’s unclear if he traveled with the team, but he was at Wednesday’s game — a 7-4, eight-inning loss — according to a team source.
Rhoades wouldn’t speculate when it the investigation would be finished and said he’s performed three other investigations of coaches during 10 years as an athletic director and Akron, Houston and now Mizzou.
“You don’t do them just to do them,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake. There’s a lot of people involved. We don’t take it lightly. When you do them, you do them for good reason.”