Sports

San Jose State gymnasts endured coach’s emotional abuse on top of trainer’s sexual abuse, athlete says

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 may 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 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 said she notified Wright, who told her that she could go after she finished practice.

“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. “I prayed that she wouldn’t make it to the NCAA, because I never wanted her to feel what we were made to feel about ourselves.”

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