Rutgers again facing allegations of abuse of athletes by coaches

For the third time in recent years, coaches of a Rutgers intercollegiate team have been accused of abusing players, in this case a wife-husband team in charge of the school’s softball team, according to a published report.

NJ Advance Media reported Wednesday that, according to allegations by players and parents, during her first year on the job, Kristen Butler and her husband, Marcus Smith, a volunteer assistant, had created a culture of fear, intimidation and abuse, both physical and emotional. Ten players left the squad within a year of the new staff taking over, a rate of exodus the publication said far exceeded that of any of Rutgers’ 22 other sports programs.

University President Robert Barchi said Thursday he wants an independent investigation of the allegations made against Butler and Smith, who has left the program.

“Rutgers is committed to a culture where nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students,” Barchi said in a statement. “That commitment is shared by the Athletics Department. Whenever concerns about student safety are presented, the university investigates those concerns in accordance with the best practices of the NCAA and our own protocols.”

Rutgers Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs denied both the accusations and an assertion that the officials at the school had done nothing about addressing the complaints.

“The concerns were reviewed and where remedial action was necessary, changes were made,” Hobbs said in a statement. “A report to the NCAA of a single Level III violation for allowing individual student athletes to practice a total of two hours more than allowable over the course of a two-month period, was reported to the NCAA.  The volunteer coach, Marcus Smith, was separated from the team.”

In the last six years, Rutgers has fired two coaches – Mike Rice and Petra Martin – over abuse allegations after media reports surfaced detailing the allegations. Rutgers paid them more than $1.2 million combined in settlement and buyout money.

Butler was hired by Rutgers in June of 2018 and led the squad to its best season since 2015, with 29 overall wins and 11 victories in the Big Ten conference, according to the school athletics website. For four years before coming to Rutgers, she had served as head coach at the University of Toledo.

Her husband served as a volunteer assistant coach for the 2018-19 season. Smith had spent two seasons as head coach of the softball program at Owens Community College before the Ohio school announced the suspension of the program.

NJ Advance reported that outfielder Erin Collins, one of those who left the team, told the paper, “People just didn’t feel safe on the team.”

Butler denied any wrongdoing and told NJ Advance the same about her husband.

Among the former players’ allegations, according to the website:

For minor transgressions, Butler would punish players with “demoralizing drills and workouts” that left some players physically ill and requiring medical attention.

Smith would “confiscate player’s mobile phones” at night on field trips and go through them and even turn them on to see the popup notifications.

The players also reported Smith would board the team bus of women players and tell them “it smelled like period blood.”

NJ Advance Media reported the charges are in a legal document that an attorney sent to Hobbs and his deputy director in July.