Los Angeles Times

Coach’s bullying added to team ordeal, gymnast says

- By Summer Lin

In the fall of 2021, former San Jose State gymnast Amy LeClair received an email from her alma mater reaching out to student-athletes who might have been sexually assaulted by former director of sports medicine Scott Shaw.

She immediatel­y sent the email to her junk folder.

“I never wanted to look at it again,” LeClair said. “At that point, I had realized in July that I had been assaulted, so it was a late-discovery case. There had been things that I went through to get to that realizatio­n, and I didn’t want to add sexual assault to the ways I had been wronged by San Jose State. I just pushed it down mentally.”

LeClair, 28, is the latest of more than two dozen women to settle with San Jose State over claims against Shaw — and her account of being sexually abused by the trainer in early 2016 has brought to light further allegation­s of mistreatme­nt.

Members of the Spartan women’s gymnastics team, LeClair said, were subjected to bullying and emotional abuse at the hands of head coach Wayne Wright. The Mercury News was the first outlet to report on the allegation­s against Wright.

LeClair said she and her teammates were forced to train while suffering from injuries including concussion­s, fractures, open

wounds, slipped discs and torn ligaments, out of fear of being yelled at and discipline­d by Wright.

“If there was a day that we didn’t get screamed at at the beginning or the end of practice or some other serious issue that was being dealt with, it was a very rare day,” LeClair said. “The amount of teammates who reached out to me after my article came out was unfathomab­le.”

Wright served as the head women’s gymnastics coach until 2018, when he stepped down after he was accused by 25 current and former gymnasts of verbal abuse, body shaming, manipulati­ve behavior, threats to take away scholarshi­ps, stopping student-athletes from being treated by a trainer or following treatment plans, and interferin­g with the athletes’ academic obligation­s, according to a university investigat­ive report from May 2018 obtained by LeClair through a California Public Records Act request and shared with The Times.

Those allegation­s were not made public, and Wright’s departure from the university was announced as a retirement in an online post that lauded his accomplish­ments, with no mention of the investigat­ion into his conduct.

Wright stopped working for San Jose State on July 9, 2018, and has agreed not to seek employment or to volunteer with the school going forward, according to a university spokespers­on.

This year, he was mentioned in a since-deleted Twitter post from the San Jose State gymnastics program thanking him for his contributi­ons. A university spokespers­on called the tweet “an error.”

According to the university investigat­ive report, Wright was also accused of calling female athletes “slut,” “stupid” or “whore.” Wright denied the allegation­s and asked the investigat­ors to interview members of his staff; three of the four staff members investigat­ors spoke to said that Wright had displayed “angry and manipulati­ve behavior.”

Because the gymnasts needed approval from Wright to be treated by a medical profession­al, some of LeClair’s teammates went to doctors in secret or continued to train while injured, she said. Once, LeClair split her knee open during practice and needed stitches. After going to the trainer and being told that she needed to go to the emergency room, LeClair notified Wright, who told her that she could go after she finished practice, she said.

“Every time I tumbled, I could feel the tear getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “I remember being so proud because Wayne didn’t get mad at me.”

LeClair added that she and her teammates were also forbidden by Wright from speaking to their parents during their time on the team. She recalled one incident in which she had to go to the emergency room for food poisoning and was reprimande­d by Wright for calling her father to ask for her insurance informatio­n.

“The parents were terrified, but no one knew what to do. My dad was stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said LeClair, who’s from Irvine, where she graduated from Woodbridge High School. “The first time my dad came to visit, he said, ‘I didn’t even recognize you.’ I had lost 15 pounds. He was scared because he knew if he reached out to Wayne, I would get in trouble.”

LeClair’s father, Stephen Bellingham, said he felt “great relief” to have the “horrible abuse exposed” but hopes that other sports programs will learn from what happened at San Jose State.

“As a parent, you feared repercussi­ons would be meted out to your child if you dared to speak out about any negative experience­s,” he said. “You were torn because you wanted to see your child fulfill their dream of participat­ing in the sport they loved. I entrusted my daughters to the coaches and staff at SJSU. SJSU failed miserably and should be ashamed.”

LeClair’s attorney, Jemma Dunn, said a culture of intimidati­on and humiliatio­n cultivated by Wright and condoned by the university could have afforded Shaw the opportunit­y to abuse athletes sexually for more than a decade.

“We filed a claim with the university for the sexual assault from Scott Shaw, and the Wayne Wright story plays such a big part in that, even though they are two separate incidents,” Dunn said. “It was the environmen­t [Wright] created and the environmen­t that the school supported and perpetuate­d that allowed Scott Shaw to exist and people like Wayne Wright to exist.”

Last fall, the school reached two agreements to pay $3.3 million to 15 former student-athletes and $1.6 million to 13 athletes who said they were abused by Shaw.

LeClair reached an independen­t settlement with the university last month for an undisclose­d amount consistent with what the other athletes received, she said.

The university was accused in a U.S. Department of Justice report last year of failing to respond to the multiple allegation­s against Shaw and retaliatin­g against employees who warned the school about the former trainer’s alleged behavior. In the wake of the scandal, former San Jose State President Mary Papazian and former San Jose State athletic director Marie Tuite resigned last year.

A San Jose State spokespers­on said the school is “grateful” that LeClair came forward.

“SJSU strives to address allegation­s of sexual misconduct compassion­ately, respectful­ly, and seriously,” the spokespers­on said in a statement. “The university is diligently listening and learning from its community and continues to improve its Title IX policies and practices.”

Shaw, 54, pleaded not guilty in March to six federal counts of misdemeano­r deprivatio­n of rights under the color of law. He faces up to six years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Dating back to December 2009, multiple female student athletes have accused Shaw of sexual abuse during treatment that was described to them as “pressure-point therapy” or “trigger-point therapy,” according to the Department of Justice report.

A student alleged inappropri­ate touching by Shaw as recently as February 2020, but he continued working at the university until his retirement in August 2020.

LeClair and her attorney were interviewe­d by the FBI regarding the Shaw case, but because her alleged assault occurred outside of the statute of limitation­s, she said she won’t be part of the official legal proceeding­s against Shaw unless she’s called in as a witness.

“I would want them to know that I stand with them,” she said of her fellow former athletes. “I want them to know that they’re doing the right thing, and they are safe and they are brave.”

LeClair’s twin sister, who was also a gymnast on the team, was the one who encouraged LeClair to email the university about being sexually abused by Shaw. LeClair said she had also witnessed her sister being bullied by Wright.

“It’s a whole other dynamic when you have your sister on the team, and you’re already being so horrifical­ly abused, and you have to watch her being abused too,” she said. “The pain of that is unbearable. We were both carrying the weight of the world, watching each other suffer.”

At one competitio­n, LeClair said, she and her team were signing autographs when she was approached by a little girl and her mother, who asked if she would sign a poster for the aspiring college gymnast.

“I remember smiling and signing the poster, and afterwards I went home and cried because I thought of that little girl, and I would never want her to have to endure what I did,” LeClair said.

 ?? Stephen Bellingham ?? AMY LECLAIR alleges emotional abuse by ex-coach Wayne Wright at San Jose State. “If there was a day that we didn’t get screamed at ... it was a very rare day.”
Stephen Bellingham AMY LECLAIR alleges emotional abuse by ex-coach Wayne Wright at San Jose State. “If there was a day that we didn’t get screamed at ... it was a very rare day.”

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