Ex-player alleges plot vs. coach

Says official promised scholarship for sexual harassment charge. The athletics director denied asking for a complaint and called the claims “not accurate.”

by Aaron Blake

A former Minnesota women’s tennis player told The Minnesota Daily that University athletics officials offered her a scholarship in exchange for a complaint against the team’s coach.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said late Saturday the player’s story was false.

“It’s not accurate,” he said.

But former Minnesota women’s tennis player Jeannette Cluskey said Maturi tried to get her to file a sexual harassment complaint against women’s tennis coach Tyler Thomson so Maturi could fire Thomson.

Cluskey said Athletics Compliance Office director Frank Kara told her she would get her scholarship back if she filed the complaint. Cluskey lost her scholarship after quitting the team in February 2003.

“I said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to lie,’ ” Cluskey said.

Cluskey said Thomson confided in her through phone calls and a personal meeting to deal with his problems coaching women. But she said she did not think his actions constituted sexual harassment and refused to file the complaint.

Maturi said he did not ask her to file a complaint nor did he ask anyone to tell her to do so.

“That was and still is Jeannette’s decision,” Maturi said. “It never would be mine, and I would never tell her to do it or not to do it.”

Maturi had not heard Cluskey’s allegation that Kara offered her a scholarship in return for the complaint.

At this point in time, Kara said, he had no comment.

Thomson could not be reached for comment this weekend.

Cluskey quit the team because of what she calls Thomson’s “emotionally abusive” conduct with players.

Three women quit earlier this season, including Valerie Vladea, who blames Thomson for her problems with stress and a 2,400-mg-per-day ibuprofen habit.

When Cluskey approached Maturi regarding Thomson’s conduct, she said, Maturi did “absolutely nothing” except have an official call her about a sexual harassment complaint against Thomson.

Cluskey said the woman told her that Maturi had her make the call. Cluskey’s conversation with Kara occurred later.

“That was the route they wanted me to take,” Cluskey said. Cluskey’s stepfather and his attorney have been in contact with Maturi since she quit the team.

Vladea, who, along with Amy Thomas and Brandi Watts, quit the team last fall, said Thomson “ruined everything” through mental and emotional abuse directed toward her.

“Right now I have nothing; it’s pretty much zero,” Vladea said. “Tyler is very abusive and controlling and manipulative.”

Vladea also contacted Maturi regarding Thomson’s behavior. But eventually, she said, Maturi gave her, Thomas and Watts an ultimatum.

“Joel Maturi came back and said ‘This is it,’ ” Vladea said. ” ‘You guys do everything Tyler tells you to do, and if he feels that you guys aren’t doing what he tells you to do, he can kick you off the team.

Otherwise, you guys can leave now and have your scholarships.’ “

Vladea, Thomas and Watts quit the team and retained their scholarships. Cluskey lost hers when she later quit the team.

Only two of the players who won a Big Ten title with the team last year remain, though only one of the departed athletes ran out of eligibility.

Vladea and Cluskey said Thomson’s actions also forced former assistant coach Kristin Sanderson to leave the program. Both credited Sanderson with last year’s success, and Vladea said part of their motivation was to prove to Thomson that he was “worthless.”

Vladea said Thomson often singled her out and chastised her in front of the team, yelling in her face.

Cluskey said Thomson picked on Vladea the most.

Vladea and Thomson saw a mediator in March 2003 and did not speak with each other afterward.

“Joel Maturi said, ‘That sounds like a very hostile and harassing environment,’ ” Cluskey said. “Those were his exact words.

“So he knows Tyler is not the guy for the job Ö but he didn’t take the right steps. Now they don’t even have a team.”