Leering alleged by wrestlers
Former Stanford athletes say coaches ignored harassment by lecturer
“We never want to see these kinds of allegations, but if and when they do happen we take them seriously, we investigate them thoroughly and we take appropriate action.” — Patrick Dunkley, deputy athletic director
PALO ALTO » In the midst of heightened awareness over the sexual exploitation of college athletes, former Stanford wrestlers are alleging a university math lecturer harassed them for years by frequently showing up in team showers after practice to leer at them.
Stanford has launched a sexual-misconduct investigation of the lecturer, Hung Le, who has a 25-year affiliation with the team, including nearly a decade on the board of directors of its youth program. He denies any untoward behavior.
But seven former wrestlers, speaking out for the first time, are claiming in strikingly similar ways that Le, 63, routinely ogled them when they were naked in a locker room open to the Stanford community. Several of them say some of their coaches knew but did nothing to stop it — a contention those coaches dispute.
“I felt pretty exposed and pretty unprotected by the folks who were supposed to be” guarding athletes’ safety, former wrestler Josh Brown said in an interview. “Any given day where that happened would be the worst day.”
In interviews with this news organization, Le called it all a misunderstanding, saying it was only coincidental that he showered when the wrestlers did after he went running. Le said he also faces an accusation that he was seen touching himself while “spying” on wrestlers in the shower, a charge he vehemently denied. “I never had any improper behavior,” Le said. But the wrestlers said it was more than random chance that Le regularly showered with them. Brown and three other wrestlers recalled he would be waiting in the locker room even when practices ran long or ended early.
Matt Gentry, a two-time Canadian Olympian and 2004 NCAA champion for Stanford, called Le a “run-
ning joke” among teammates but said he never felt harassed or threatened.
However, Gentry made it clear: “The fact there was excessive staring in the shower did happen.”
Stanford began its investigation this summer under Title IX, a federal law mandating universities act on abuse claims, after several former wrestlers made the allegations, which cover a period from 2002-2010. A university spokesman said Thursday it could be wrapping up its investigation as early as today.
Those allegations surfaced when a former wrestler raised concerns with fellow alumni after learning of Le’s position with the Cardinal Wrestling Club, the program’s youth team. There are no allegations of wrongdoing against Le involving the youth club or Stanford’s current wrestling team. He resigned his position in June before the charges were leveled.
“We never want to see these kinds of allegations, but if and when they do happen we take them seriously, we investigate them thoroughly and we take appropriate action,” deputy athletic director Patrick Dunkley said in an interview.
When first approached by this news organization, Le initially denied being involved with Stanford wrestling. But documents and interviews contradicted that claim. He eventually acknowledged his long affiliation with the team, befriending coaches, being listed as a “Friend of Stanford Wrestling” in media guides, making donations, hosting dinners and serving on the youth team’s board to handle its finances.
“I am shocked some of the wrestlers said they were uncomfortable,” Le said. “No one ever said anything to me.”
Some of the wrestlers, however, said at one point they witnessed teammates confront Le — but it did not change his behavior.
This isn’t the first time Stanford has received complaints about Le. In 2011, after a friend of an unidentified wrestler complained to the university, an athletic department official cleared Le of misconduct but told him to avoid team showers and one-on-one encounters with wrestlers going forward.
The latest charges have risen against a backdrop of sexual abuse scandals at other big-time schools such as Ohio State, where wrestlers allege similar but more lurid shower behavior. Unlike sex scandals at Penn State and Michigan State, Stanford wrestlers don’t allege physical abuse.
But sexual abuse experts said what the wrestlers describe is a form of sexual harassment and stalking. “You don’t need to touch somebody to hurt them,” said University of Wisconsin psychology professor Ryan McKinley, a member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity. “There may not have been any contact, but clearly people on the receiving end saw its impact.”
The wrestlers said other men, none of whom they can identify, also often showed up and stared at them in the way Le did. But they remember the 5-foot-2 Le because they said he was the man most frequently taking showers when they did.
Drew Martinez, a Stanford wrestler from the early 2000s, said the experience still bothers him: “Even to this day I am wary in locker rooms, at least keeping my head on a swivel.”
Most of the wrestlers acknowledge they never complained to coaches or university officials at the time of the encounters because they were embarrassed or just went along with teammates who joked about it.
But some of the wrestlers said coaches were present when the topic of Le’s behavior came up at practices but told them to shower in groups and ignore Le. Martinez said then-head coach Steve Buddie and his assistant Jay Jackson both knew about Le’s behavior, but both said in interviews they were unaware of what the former athletes now describe.
“It breaks my heart this comes up now and I am hearing of this,” said Buddie, who led the Cardinal from 2001-2005. “I had zero reported to me or brought to my attention.”
Jackson, who also insisted he never heard complaints specifically about Le, had his own harrowing reason to warn wrestlers about the dangers of men hanging around the team. In 1996, he was bound, gagged and held at gunpoint in his condominium by a man who had befriended him on campus. He fought his way free and the attacker was sent to prison.
Jackson acknowledged that he gave the team a general warning based on his experience — but not about Le.
“We told the wrestlers to watch themselves and be careful,” he said.
Buddie’s replacement, Kerry McCoy, a two-time Olympian who left Stanford in 2008, did not return messages.
Current head coach Jason Borrelli, who has run the program since 2008, said that he believed Le “posed no threat” and that he was “completely comfortable” with wrestlers attending holiday dinners Le began hosting in 2010.
His associate head coach, Ray Blake, was a teammate to many of the wrestlers now making the accusations and wrestled with the Cardinal from 2001 to 2006 when many of the incidents allegedly occurred. Blake acknowledged that he knew Le but told this news organization: “To my knowledge, nothing inappropriate ever happened, and if it had, I would have reported it immediately.”
Stanford’s athletic department and the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy Office jointly investigated Le in 2011, Dunkley said, after an unidentified person made allegations on behalf of a wrestler. But Le described the process as informal and said he was never interviewed by an investigator from the Sexual Harassment Policy Office. Instead, he said an athletic department official was the only one to speak with him about the accusations.
Earl Koberlein, then a senior associate athletic director, told Le in an email — which Le provided to this news organization — that he found no violations of Stanford’s Sexual Harassment Policy but instructed him to move his locker and “keep a good distance away from wrestling team members” when they showered and to not be alone with them.
Koberlein, now at Menlo School, acknowledged speaking to Le but declined further comment.
The former wrestlers making allegations now said they were unaware of the athletic department’s previous investigation into Le. And one leading expert found the handling of that probe troubling, questioning why Koberlein participated instead of leaving it solely to the university’s independent Sexual Harassment Policy Office.
Coincidental ly, just months after Koberlein cleared Le, the U.S. Department of Education cracked down on how universities handled campus sexual harassment and assault allegations, said Los Angeles lawyer Brett Sokolow, a leading Title IX expert.
Before the changes, investigations often occurred informally in the department where they originated and “professors basically had immunity,” Sokolow said. But even without the changes, a university of Stanford’s stature should have done better, he said.
The athletic department involvement showed “a version of special treatment,” Sokolow said. “It doesn’t sound like it was in line.”
When asked if it was appropriate for the athletic department to handle that investigation, Dunkley, who was not at the university at the time, said the university’s sexual harassment office “obviously reached the conclusion” that it was proper for Koberlein to participate.
This time, the allegations are being handled by the campus Title IX office, which didn’t exist in 2011. Wrestlers who came forward said they were motivated to speak out now because they recently became fathers and realized they would never want their children to suffer the same humiliation.
“It had no business being this way,” said Brown, who wrestled between 20022006. “But it is one of my vivid associations of being an athlete at Stanford.”
This screenshot shows the LinkedIn page of Stanford lecturer Hung Le. Stanford has launched a sexualmisconduct investigation of Le for allegedly harassing former members of the Stanford wrestling team.