Leer­ing al­leged by wrestlers

For­mer Stan­ford ath­letes say coaches ig­nored ha­rass­ment by lec­turer

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Thomas Peele and El­liott Al­mond Staff writ­ers

“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.”

COUR­TESY OF LINKEDIN

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.

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