Florida’s women’s basketball coach was fiery, and more than a little intense. It led to a cycle that became predictable: Promising players entering the program, the Gators making some noise with those players, and then progress being undone by waves of transfers.
The athletic director responsible for installing that coach atop the program that routinely lags far behind the rest of Florida’s phenomenal lineup of teams would stand by that hiring and the program, too — maybe for too long, and possibly for sentimental reasons.
And it would all end poorly, with Florida looking to pick up the pieces after an ignominious end to a tenure that was arguably two or three years longer than it should have been.
But that was the story of Amanda Butler’s time leading Florida’s women’s basketball.
And while what Cam Newbauer allegedly did, per what several former Gators and multiple parents told Zachary Huber of The Independent Florida Alligator, is so much worse, understanding how the star-crossed Florida’s women’s basketball program came to be the disgraced Florida women’s basketball program, it is instructive to start long before Newbauer was ever hired by Scott Stricklin — and even long before Jeremy Foley rose through the ranks to become the Gators’ athletic director.
Over the weekend, Florida celebrated 50 years of fielding varsity women’s teams. In all that time, its women’s basketball program has been competitive only in stints.
The first teams of women the Gators put on the court predated the NCAA or SEC sponsoring women’s basketball as a sport, and only the first two — the 1974-75 and 1975-76 Gators coached by Dr. Paula Welch, who often paid for their own meals at McDonald’s and washed uniforms at laundromats — would post winning seasons in the 1970s. Debbie Yow, best known to most as a longtime athletic director at Maryland and N.C. State, piloted the Gators to two more winning years in the 1980s.
Florida’s first winning record in SEC play and NCAA Tournament appearance would not come until 1992-93, under third-year coach Carol Ross — and the Gators only made the play-in of the sport’s ultimate event that year. Ross’s Gators subsequently rattled off five straight 20-win seasons, including a trip to the Elite Eight of the 1997 NCAA Tournament followed by a Sweet Sixteen berth in the 1998 NCAA Tournament, establishing the high-water mark for the program.
But Ross would resign after the 2002 season, stunning Foley and Florida. She was coming off just her second season with fewer than 20 wins since 1992-93, but had led the Gators to their first — and still only — outright second place finish in the SEC in 2000-01, and was a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year award in 2001 and 2002. (Those awards were won by Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma, respectively.)
And Ross departing suddenly led to what would prove to be maybe Foley’s worst hire of 2002 — a dubious feat, given that he hired Ron Zook that January. Foley convinced Carolyn Peck, then the coach of the WNBA’s Orlando Miracle, to trek up I-75 to Gainesville, giving the Gators a seeming coup of a hire: Peck had established herself as a successful big name in women’s basketball, and had won the 1999 NCAA Tournament with Purdue despite a strange arrangement in which she accepted the Miracle job in the summer of 1998 and was openly spending a final year in West Lafayette before leaving for the Sunshine State.
Yet in Gainesville, Peck mostly foundered, alternating winning seasons with dismal ones over her five years. The good was making two brief NCAA Tournament trips; the bad was bookending her tenure with 20-loss seasons, and finishing with a 72-76 record despite taking over a program that Ross had led to a .672 winning percentage.
So when Foley tapped Butler to replace Peck (whom Florida still couldn’t bring itself to say it had fired, notably) he was aiming to replace a big name who failed to build a program with someone different. Enter Butler, the hard-nosed point guard who had starred for Ross in the 1990s and who better fit the Foley mold of younger strivers — like Billy Donovan, Roland Thornqvist, Tim Walton, Becky Burleigh, and others — that had led and would lead Gators to unprecedented glory in various sports.
Butler brought Florida some memorable moments and brought talented players to Gainesville. But she never quite did the former consistently — and the latter was seemingly always followed by some of those players leaving, with Butler’s intensity coming under some scrutiny and often cited as a potential reason for the departures.
Despite winning 20 games six times in nine seasons and racking up 190 victories in total, Butler seemed to live on the hot seat, even when her contract was extended. When she was ultimately let go in 2017, it felt as if she had finally run out of of time — and like Stricklin, who had succeeded Foley the previous fall, was going to get a chance to put his own stamp on Florida’s lone true laggard.
In his quest to replace Butler, Stricklin first aimed about as high as he could.
Florida’s pursuit of San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon came as a shock, not least because Hammon was — and still is — tabbed as a potential successor to the legendary Gregg Popovich with the Spurs. And unlike more recent overtures to Hammon from other NBA teams, which have been accused of being more about franchises performatively entertaining the idea of hiring a woman than real opportunities, there was never a whisper that Florida’s efforts to bring Hammon to Gainesville were anything but legitimate.
Hammon would eventually turn Florida down, but Stricklin leading a very public pursuit of a coach well-respected in basketball as both a fantastic player and a promising coach alone was a suggestion that he might land a big name to coach the Gators.
Then he hired Newbauer, a coach in the Foley mold, and most expectations that Florida would immediately become one of the most compelling stories in women’s college basketball under a big name were promptly replaced by the idea that the first man to lead these Gators would instead be expected to build a program slowly.
As it turns out, Newbauer didn’t build much of anything. In four years leading Florida’s women’s basketball program, Newbauer never finished above .500, only barely meeting that mark by surging to a 15-15 record at the end of the 2019-20 campaign while still going 6-10 in SEC play. His Gators made the WNIT just once, in 2020-21, but bowed out in the second round.
His 46-71 record translates to a miserable .393 winning percentage, the worst of any coach in the history of Florida’s least accomplished program.
However: I genuinely still think that the 2020-21 Gators were unreasonably low on luck. A slew of close losses, an unfavorable SEC schedule, and key injuries were significant factors in preventing a team that had legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations from realizing them — had top scorer Lavender Briggs not suffered a season-ending foot injury in February, maybe Florida would have had the firepower to stage a couple of upsets down the SEC stretch run, and merit Selection Committee consideration.
Without any knowledge of what was going on in practices, I thought River Wells calling for Newbauer to be fired in the pages of The Alligator on March 14 — in a column that also makes no mention of anything but Florida’s on-court results under Newbauer — was a bit premature. (That Wells followed it up with a more inane call for Mike White to be fired didn’t help.) And, more importantly, I also thought Florida’s track record of giving most coaches plenty of time to either fully implement their visions or fully fail to do so and Stricklin’s likely desire to see if his first hire could turn a corner with what could have been his best team in the 2021-22 season would give Newbauer at least another season of grace.
But Newbauer didn’t even make it to the fall semester of the 2021-22 academic year — and he still ended up making Florida one of the most compelling stories in women’s college basketball for all the wrong reasons.
What Newbauer stands accused of varies from horrific to despicable to merely unsavory, but most of it could plausibly be cause for his firing, if not necessarily a firing for cause.
If he stood accused only of throwing a basketball at a player with a torn ACL — and hitting that player in her leg — that alone would be damning. If he had allegedly only assigned an assistant coach to take Black players to purchase clothing he deemed inappropriate, told players to cover up tattoos, or made racially microaggressive comments about Black players’ hair — with part of the implication being that Newbauer was doing so to mold those players into better role models for his daughters — then that alone would suggest an inability to relate to players.
Those are far from the only allegations against him, and there are arguably far worse allegations in Huber’s story. They paint a picture of a coach completely incapable of using his station and its power over athletes responsibly, a petty tyrant who built and sustained a culture of fear, and a person at best indifferent to the suffering of people under his care — and, at worst, inclined to wring those people for effort that could benefit him and belittle or discard them if they proved incapable of providing it.
Yet it is worth mentioning, in the interest of fairness, that what we have are almost exclusively accusations being levied after the fact of Newbauer’s resignation by former players. Though Huber’s reporting includes on-the-record quotes from no less than five former Newbauer players and insights from two more, none spent more than a year under Newbauer at Florida, and none remain on Florida’s roster.
And there is also nothing in the report as presented to suggest that Huber had access to any contemporaneous evidence of Newbauer’s abusive behavior, like the infamous video of former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice hurling slurs and basketballs at his players that caused a media firestorm in 2013. If such evidence were provided to Huber, I have to think it would have been vetted for veracity and included in his report — it could have further corroborated all of the allegations, or it could have powerfully cut against the allegations, but either way it would have been as relevant and newsworthy as can be.
The willingness of this many sources to go on the record with these allegations — some of them likely corroborating each other, and possibly doing so without knowledge of others’ reporting — makes the chances that these are fabrications from disgruntled players very, very remote. And Huber does have one significant corroborating detail: He appears to have obtained email correspondence from Stricklin to the parents of former Florida player Sydney Morang that would seem to date to 2018, with Stricklin acknowledging a meeting between executive associate athletic director Lynda Tealer and multiple women’s basketball players and saying that Florida will “consider all the information we have received and work to make enhancements that improves the experience for our students.”
Alas, among the few weaknesses of Huber’s report — which is, broadly speaking, a strong piece of journalism exploring abuse of significant scope in significant detail, and the kind of work that most working journalists will tell you they dream of being able to report out and write — are its lack of a defined timeline for many of the events detailed and writing that often presents assertions about Newbauer that are not specifically linked to any source.
It includes the detail that Morang and teammates called a player who played for Newbauer at Belmont (and heard an unflattering review) around the time of his hiring, for example, but does not give a month or date for the correspondence between Stricklin and Morang’s parents — despite Huber being able to assert that Stricklin emailed them three hours after receiving a “letter” sent to both Stricklin and University of Florida president W. Kent Fuchs.
That correspondence, similarly, is presumably part of an exchange that occurred after players meeting with Tealer at which Morang accompanied exiting players Tameria Johnson and Jalaysha Thomas — if, that is, Morang’s parents were emailing after that specific meeting, and there were no other meetings between players and Tealer that Stricklin could be referring to, possibilities that the report doesn’t preclude.
Including details on exactly when this meeting occurred, whether it was the lone meeting between Tealer and players, and when (and what) Morang’s parents emailed Stricklin would all strengthen the report considerably, and help both tell the story of its subjects’ assertions and enable readers to draw conclusions from presented facts.
Instead, that detail was made public on Monday evening by Lynn Morang, Sydney’s mother, who tweeted a thread clarifying — and providing an April 2018 timeframe for — her decision, along with her husband, to email Stricklin and Fuchs and their intentions in doing so.
One of the report’s most powerful passages also helps exemplify how the writing is often unnecessarily confusing.
Another time, he threw a ball at a redshirt junior because she didn’t understand a drill, Morang witnessed it as she sat on the sideline due to an injury.
Newbauer hollered as the teammate walked out.
You won’t disrespect me by leaving this practice.
Her teammate hollered back.
You will not disrespect me by throwing a ball at me.
That was one of the few times an athlete defended herself, but the atmosphere thwarted any resistance and pushed athletes into silence.
“It was so toxic and unsafe,” she said. “Everyone was so scared that no one wanted to speak up.”
Who, I wonder each time I read this passage, is the “she” who gave the quote at the end of this anecdote?
I can infer that it is Morang, and that this presentation of events is entirely from her, but that last “she” could reasonably be interpreted as referring to the redshirt junior who is also part of the anecdote. Rewriting this passage to make crystal clear that the event is being recalled by Morang alone would have helped to make clear that it is her assertion that this was “one of the few times an athlete defended herself” and that “the atmosphere thwarted any resistance and pushed athletes into silence,” rather than Huber’s.
And if players other than Morang witnessed this incident, it would substantially corroborate her account to have noted that much.
There are several other junctures in the report in which the writing does not clearly distinguish Huber’s assertions from those of his sources. Perhaps most notable in that regard is how one of the report’s most sensitive topics is discussed.
Many of Newbauer’s athletes severely struggled with mental health. They had to take weeks off during the middle of the season because they couldn’t handle what Newbauer put them through.
“We had a girl that just quit, like she just physically couldn’t handle it anymore,” Kinslow said. “She worked her a— off to get where she was and decided quitting was more beneficial to her mental health than it was for her to play something she used 19 years of her life to get to.”
A former Florida player even attempted suicide, Kinslow said. The former player eventually quit the team and went back home.
The assertions in that first paragraph could be substantially strengthened by attributing them to whomever made them. But the one in the last paragraph is perplexing.
Kinslow, who transferred to Florida from Long Beach State in 2020 to finish her collegiate basketball career, comes across as brave and candid throughout the piece. She has also been candid in her venting about Newbauer — though she does not use his name — on her TikTok account, where viewers can find multiple videos in which she alleges abuse and revels in his firing.
Huber mentions that account — which has over 200,000 followers, or about four times as many as Florida football phenom Anthony Richardson has on Twitter and Instagram combined — in the report, asserting that Kinslow “took to TikTok to expose Newbauer’s behavior and the Florida women’s basketball program’s toxicity.”
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the report includes Kinslow saying that “a former Florida player even attempted suicide,” but does not include any mention of a video published by Kinslow on July 27, in which she uses a meme format popular on the medium to respond to the question “Did you love being an athlete?” with “idk I tried to unalive myself” — using slang for attempting suicide that is sometimes meant in jest and/or deployed to avoid any automatic censorship of the word “kill” — and says she “got” anxiety and depression from her collegiate career.
It is possible that Kinslow told Huber that a former Florida player attempted suicide and was referring to herself. It is possible that she told him about a teammate attempting suicide. It is possible that her July 27 TikTok video is an honest admission that she attempted suicide, or simply a hyperbolic joke.
But Huber’s published passage not acknowledging or addressing that publicly posted TikTok video — even though it mentions the account and links to another video from it, suggesting at least that he or one of his editors is well aware of the account’s existence — omits details that are very much relevant to a discussion of attempted suicide, and possibly understates just how much damage Newbauer’s alleged abuse did.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Again: Huber’s reporting is an achievement to be proud of, and I freely admit that much of this critique — intended to be constructive! — verges on nit-picking and is thoroughly tedious. (Credit — and the same critiques — should also be applied to the editors and reporters who worked alongside Huber, whom he listed and thanked on Monday.)
I will also freely admit to being envious of both Huber’s capacity to do reporting like this — his physical proximity to the program as a student living and working in Gainesville likely helps in this regard, as does The Alligator‘s status as an independent outlet with a slew of reporters and editors who can handle other elements of producing a daily paper while he was reporting this out — and the end product, the result of what I would guess was a significant amount of difficult work done incredibly well, and all as a sideline to Huber pursuing his college education.
But what Florida’s former players — and, importantly, Morang’s parents — told him makes this a story about a much bigger problem than just the alleged abuse by Newbauer. And any error in the reporting or its presentation, no matter how small, introduces some doubt when interpreting what it could and should mean for Florida.
“Cam Newbauer has stepped down as Florida women’s basketball head coach for personal reasons, the University Athletic Association announced Friday” is how Florida’s July 16 release on Newbauer’s departure began.
“He’s definitely not stepping down for personal reasons,” a source with knowledge of Florida’s women’s basketball program told me on July 16. “There’s much more going on there.”
I have also been aware of Kinslow’s TikTok account — though not exactly an ardent follower of it — since at least February, when she went viral on the app thanks to a video in which she jokingly sips on a Gatorade bottle and mouths the then-popular “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like this?” intro from Rihanna’s “Disturbia” with an overlaid caption that reads “When the gatorade starts tasting like these mfs cant guard me.”
It’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek video — like many Kinslow has posted, including a post-viral follow-up, it suggests she’s well aware she spent her college career as an itinerant player mostly on the bench. It was also phenomenally popular: Per TikTok, it attracted an astounding 5.7 million views, more than half a million likes, and, most astoundingly, nearly 17,000 comments, an inordinate number of which were from people not getting that the joke she was making was partly on herself, reading it instead as completely straight-faced braggadocio, and bringing up her paltry stats in an attempt to minimize her.
(It will likely not surprise you that most of those seem to be from men, and often seemingly from the sort of men who might be threatened enough by a woman having a more successful career in college athletics than they could ever dream of despite not starring on the court that they need to publicly denigrate a woman like that.)
It appears that you cannot watch that video on a desktop computer now, with TikTok saying it is “currently unavailable.” But it still exists on the app, with its audio apparently muted for copyright reasons, and the version I downloaded on Monday night even plays that audio.
I meant to write about that, and more generally about the sorts of absurd bullshit that women who have the temerity to both play sports and make jokes attract in the world, at the time. And I had, prior to July, seen TikToks from Kinslow — including one from March in which she suggests a coach told her “You’re not hurt, it’s just a mentality” — that hinted at the possibility of things not being completely rosy in Newbauer’s program. (I also remember thinking that Florida putting on what seemed like a social media charm offensive meant to convince surprise star Kiara “Kiki” Smith in Gainesville was odd — but, well, it worked, and reviewing tweets now suggests that I may have been connecting more dots than actually existed back then.)
But I’ve meant to write about a lot of things in the past year and a half without being able to turn those intentions into posts here.
I’ve been suffering from chronic back and leg pain since mid-March of last year, and while the intensity of it has varied, it has occasionally made the physical act of even sitting up a difficult one and often left me wanting to do anything but sit at a keyboard and write. I also moved late last year — I wouldn’t recommend doing that while managing back pain, by the way — and have dealt with a fair bit of family drama.
Also, there has been a pandemic. Maybe you have heard about it.
In any case: This is a story I have been waiting on, but not one I was ever in a great position to report. And while I regard that as a failing, at least on some levels, I am telling you all that background detail to say this: Stories like this, many of them, are out there untold, and it is often only if and when people start pulling on threads, putting out feelers, dashing off emails, and making phone calls that they become public knowledge.
That sort of journalism takes time. It requires concerted effort. It is not easy. It is often greatly aided by access to resources — and it can also be impeded, or even dissuaded, by the dependence on access to sources that might be revoked or limited as retribution for reporting that makes people look bad.
What comes next for Florida, Stricklin, and others will be intense scrutiny, intended to produce answers to salient questions of what they knew and when. But it is fair, to some degree, to wonder why the many, many people who cover Florida Gators football and men’s basketball — myself included — are just getting around to asking these questions now, after years of alleged abuse, when the damage has long been done.
I can only answer those questions fully for myself, and I offer my answers above as explanation, not excuse. I should have done more reporting on this, and even my honestly mitigating circumstances do not feel exculpatory to me.
But I encourage you to consider that this is the sort of thing that college students at college newspapers — and especially independent ones, like The Alligator, that can search for truth, speak it to power, and pursue the goal of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable that some hold out as the heart of journalism itself — are uniquely equipped to both discover and cover, and that the failings of other outlets to do so have a lot more to do with institutional limitations than personal failure.
Conveniently, that leads us to the crux of all of this: Florida’s continued employment of Cam Newbauer for more than three full years after players spoke to Tealer and parents of one of his players sent a letter to Stricklin and Fuchs, and how that came to pass. To understand that, we have to ask questions about both institutional limitations and personal failings.
Zach Goodall, who runs the Florida site that operates under the Sports Illustrated aegis, got our first significant piece of that puzzle on Monday in the form of a comment from Florida’s athletic department that is attributed to Stricklin.
This is, for now, the only response we are likely to be getting from either the University of Florida itself or the University Athletic Association that Stricklin runs; Goodall tweeted that he reached out to Fuchs’s office directly, only to be pointed to the UAA.
That element of this is disappointing, but I think it is only minimally so: Fuchs is not involved in what the UAA does on a day-to-day basis, and though Newbauer’s abuse is something that allegedly happened on Florida’s campus under his watch, it is not just plausible that this never reached his purview, but likely. The most likely path of any internal reporting of complaints about Newbauer is up the UAA chain of command — eventually, to Tealer and then to Stricklin, but never higher than that.
That makes the UAA statement even more disappointing.
What is most relevant and dispiriting about it is what it confirms about “concerns” about Newbauer, namely that there were multiple instances of things being brought to the attention of people within the UAA. And that admission in combination with what Sydney Morang and her parents told Huber — and what Lynn Morang confirmed in her tweets — gives the impression that Stricklin and/or Tealer and/or other people within the UAA heard about concerns about Newbauer once, spoke to him and put what they thought were protocols in place to prevent them, and then subsequently heard more concerns about Newbauer and did the same thing that failed in the first place.
But the when of all that is unknown for now, and the what is less clear than it could be. We know, via Lynn Morang’s tweets, that she sent her email to Stricklin and Fuchs in April 2018; squaring that with Huber’s report gives us Stricklin responding to it on that same day, and Stricklin’s response as included in the report suggests that Morang accompanied Johnson and Thomas to a meeting with Tealer at some point after the end of the 2017-18 season in March.
Nowhere in Huber’s report is there an allegation of what Johnson, Thomas, or Sydney Morang told Tealer more specific than Johnson and Thomas being “pushed out of the program” or Newbauer “belittling” them — and because those are both Huber’s phrasings, rather than direct quotes, there’s plenty of room for interpretation of precisely what was discussed in that meeting.
Lynn Morang’s tweets are even more vague: She writes that the email involved “detailing our specific concerns and providing multiple examples of Coach Newbauer’s behavior,” but does not elaborate on what those specific concerns or the examples of Newbauer’s behavior actually were. (In fairness: She, unlike Huber, has an obvious interest in keeping some details private, given her daughter’s place in all of this.)
Is it likely that all of Johnson, Thomas, Sydney Morang, and Morang’s parents gave accounts of Newbauer’s behavior that did not include anything rising to the level of a offense justifying a firing with cause? Not really.
But it is possible — especially in the absence of precise, granular details about the substance of the meeting or the Morangs’ email — that some or all of the members of that contingent did not say as much then as they are saying now? Or that players inherited by Newbauer and later told that they would not play if they stayed at Florida were received by Tealer, Stricklin, and/or other UAA higher-ups — perhaps after also gathering information from Newbauer — as disgruntled malcontents whose complaints were to be taken with a grain of salt? While not exactly what Occam’s razor points to, I think those are both possibilities, as frustrating as some aspects of those possibilities are.
The possibility that any concerns brought up by those departing players and the Morangs led to assistant coaches suggesting therapy for players — either independently or following guidance from the UAA — should also be considered as a potentially complicating factor. While assistant coaches suggesting therapy and players acting on that suggestion would probably have been a good thing for the players and Florida’s program, it could have served to effectively treat the symptoms of disease rather than addressing its root cause.
If Newbauer being abusive was something that players vented about to therapists, rather than UAA officials, it is not hard to imagine that might have actually served to prevent reports of the abuse to those who could do something about it. Reporting abuse to outside parties is an ethically fraught concept for therapists, whose work relies on trust and confidentiality, and mandatory reporting laws generally only cover child abuse; my cursory reading of what would seem to be the relevant statutes suggests that is true of Florida law.
Even if therapists were hearing accounts of abuse from Florida players, it is likely that they both were not legally bound to report them and that they were also ethically bound not to do so — which could have created a cycle in which players told therapists of continuing or escalating abuse, only to have those accounts effectively confined to therapists’ notebooks, rather than provided to people for whom it would be actionable.
However, what I believe is the most frustrating element of these allegations is the seeming likelihood that, for whatever reasons, concerns about Newbauer reached Tealer and/or Stricklin for at least a second time that did not lead to his immediate firing.
Whatever can be said of how the UAA reacted to what was brought to its attention in 2018, Kinslow’s quotes to Huber — which, remember, come from a person who was only part of Florida’s program from September 2020 through some point this spring — strongly suggest that any abuse that occurred after Newbauer’s first year was not prevented by UAA protocols, and that those protocols also did not prevent it from potentially getting worse.
If UAA officials were told in 2018 about what Huber reports occurred in Newbauer’s first season — which includes, importantly, the apparently Morang-sourced allegations about throwing basketballs, probably both the most serious claim presented and the one that would make it fairly easy to fire Newbauer with cause — and the UAA response was basically putting Newbauer on notice, then that is a major failure by the UAA.
And that would remain true even if, being very generous, the people involved are well-intentioned and diligent, and only learned the full extent of this alleged abuse recently, whether on Monday or at some point just before Newbauer’s resignation this summer. An inadequate response to allegations of abuse in 2018 would still be an underlying failure, one illustrative of either an inability or an unwillingness to do what was necessary to prevent abuse that they were informed was occurring under their watch.
If that is what happened, it should and will regarded as deeply shameful and embarrassing.
Florida’s athletics department touts what it offers to athletes as “a championship experience with integrity.” Integrity, in turn, is one of its core values — “We do the right thing every day,” reads one of the supporting bullet points.
If even some of what is contained in Huber’s report is true, what it provided to any women’s basketball players who passed through the program since the hiring of Newbauer was anything but that championship experience with integrity, and it failed to to the right thing on many, many days that Newbauer spent abusing players.
And that Huber’s report came hours, not days, after a weekend that doubled as a showy celebration of 50 years of fielding varsity women’s sports teams makes this potentially colossal failure an even more heartbreaking abdication of its duties to its athletes — it would be proof that a half-century of supporting women’s athletics did not instill in Florida the institutional resolve to do right by the women who are its athletes.
What specifically remains to be done, both in looking back and going forward, is unclear.
Details about what Tealer and Stricklin knew and when they knew it will likely guide my opinion on whether they should continue to serve in their roles at the UAA. I am willing to wait for those details and grant some benefit of the doubt — especially to Tealer. Her lived experience — as a Black woman who has spent her professional life in an industry populated by a lot of powerful white men, earning a sterling reputation along the way — is something I am inclined to hope was helpful in effectively fielding and addressing concerns and/or allegations of racist abuse from Black women about their white and male coach, if those were indeed brought to her attention.
I am also more than willing to call for the firing of either or both, should further troubling details be revealed. Neither is bigger than the UAA; neither should continue in their role if it is proven that what they knew should have reasonably led to swifter or better action.
I also think that Florida needs to either publicly commit to a full independent investigation of what happened under Newbauer and how the UAA failed in preventing it, quickly present every relevant fact that is not protected by privacy laws to justify its decision-making regarding Newbauer, or both.
The timeline as the public understands it right now suggests that Florida not only retained Newbauer after learning of allegations of some sort in 2018, but did so again after at least one other instance of “concerns” that “were brought to our attention,” then extended his contract this offseason; that timeline is further muddled by Florida only announcing an extension reportedly tendered in February and signed on March 30 on June 1, which extends the window of time in which it is possible that Florida received a second spate of allegations against Newbauer only after it extended his contract.
Again: If Florida extended Newbauer’s contract despite multiple allegations of abuse against him, then I think there is no plausible defense those responsible for that decision can mount other than an investigation absolving Newbauer — and given that Newbauer ended up resigning, it sure seems likely that there was no such absolution.
It is incumbent on Florida to be transparent and honest about what it knew and when, and not just because that is the morally right thing to do. As time elapses between now and when those details are revealed by Florida, the likelihood of them leaking in increasingly unflattering ways that are beyond even the UAA’s capacity for spin shoots skyward.
And while I am willing to hold judgment on some people involved in all of this, I think all of the above has to come in conjunction with either an indefinite suspension for or the firing of interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley — who is the only assistant hired by Newbauer in 2017 that remains with Florida, and who is alleged by Kinslow to have done “everything she could to sweep (his conduct) under the rug.”
Florida has attempted to play up Finley taking over as a “fairly seamless” transition from Newbauer. What we know now suggests that a continuation of practically anything that happened under Newbauer should be the last thing that Florida wants, and while I am willing to believe that Finley was a moderating force who attempted to help players while Newbauer hurt them, I can also believe that her parting ways with the Gators is a crucial step in giving Florida’s players a fair chance of having the sort of experience they deserve.
Speaking of those players: If there is even the slightest bit of proof for Newbauer’s actions rising to the level of abuse, they should be given every opportunity to make decisions on their futures regardless of the ramifications for Florida. Their scholarships should be fully guaranteed even if they never dribble a ball for the Gators again; their interests in transferring to other programs should be accommodated in every way possible.
Most importantly for Florida, their full, honest assessments of the program and their experiences in it should be solicited, anonymously or not — and, more cathartically for the players themselves, if any or all of them wants to scream at Stricklin for the entirety of a work day, I want them to have that opportunity.
It is almost impossible to see a way in which this all shakes out that suggests that — even if the failure was more institutional than personal — Florida did not fail these players in meaningful and potentially life-altering ways. The moment the first allegation of abuse could be substantiated was the most appropriate time for Florida to stop failing them — but now is still an appropriate time to do so, and later is unacceptable.
And then there is what must be done going forward. Above all else, Florida must do everything in its power to change itself institutionally and prevent something like this from recurring in this program or occurring in another one.
I do not know precisely what form that change will take, or should. But I have some ideas.
Ideally, I believe Florida — both the UAA and the University of Florida — should choose this moment to shift from mere tacit support of half measures meant to empower college athletes, like them profiting off their name, image, and likeness, to full-throated advocacy for the professionalization of college athletes. I think one of the most powerful guards against alleged abuse like this would be the classification of college athletes as the employees of immensely powerful marketing arms of even more powerful colleges and universities that they are, rather than prolonging the insulting charade that they are “amateurs” to continue extracting and profiting from their labor without providing them the protections of full employment. I also think there are significant recruiting advantages to be gleaned from standing out in college athletics as a program that takes the radical step of publicly committing to putting its athletes first and then walking the walk.
Of course, you and I both know that is a pipe dream. So aiming lower makes sense.
How about the UAA publicly committing to protecting the physical and mental health of athletes in its care and taking significant actions to back up those words?
I realize that might require actions like doing anything other than claiming its hands are tied by the state government — something that has not prevented the far less powerful public school system in the county where UF sits from fighting that same state government on behalf of the children in its care — when it comes to a deadly pandemic. But if the reward is that fewer Gators die of or even fall ill with COVID-19 or any subsequent viruses on or beyond its level, I reckon that is actually worth the risk of Ron DeSantis trying to levy a fine that an institution with multiple billions of dollars in its endowment cannot absorb.
How about the UAA taking concrete steps to meaningfully involve athletes in the hiring of their coaches? It sounds from Huber’s report like Morang and some subset of her teammates were able to brace for Newbauer based on doing some reconnaissance with former players.
What if those players soliciting feedback from other players and having those with hiring power actually listen to them became a routine UAA practice? Sure, it might prevent the hiring of coaches who turn out to be abusive or fabricate death threats in a strange and embarrassing saga, sparing everyone a whole lot of headache and heartache, but I guess it could also keep players safer and empower them to help shape their collegiate careers.
How about the UAA committing to ongoing fund-raising to support the existence and development of a robust department for athlete welfare that goes well beyond the “enhanced administrative oversight” that Strickin’s statement says was involved in this case? Florida athletes deserve, at minimum, the equivalent of a human resources department within the UAA — even if HR departments have their own intrinsic flaws, they do generally serve a purpose as the proper channel for reporting abuse in the working world. And while Gators on fields are also Florida students who can avail themselves of UF’s own resources, the church-and-state relationship UF and the UAA maintain often works against students and athletes alike.
I suspect that there might be some folks in the Florida fan base who do not exactly see the point of donating toward palatial facilities for football coaches, but might be inclined to give money that directly benefits athletes’ welfare.
Finally: How about Stricklin, Tealer, and everyone else involved in this mess and still in the employ of the UAA make a point of publicly apologizing for failing the players in their women’s basketball program? This will obviously not magically and retroactively prevent this alleged abuse, erase memories of the abuse, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or do anything to prevent future abuse — but it is among the least of the things the women of Florida’s women’s basketball program deserve right now, and those who need to make apologies can do it today.
If there is going to be meaningful change that comes from this — and if there is not, that will be a bigger failure than this ordeal itself was — then it will almost certainly come in part from doing the sort of soul-searching that leads to confronting painful truths about failure.
Though I, as a flawed human being who fails often in my own right, am sympathetic to those who feel now that they have failed those in their care, the more important emotion right now is empathy for those Gators who were failed — to the victims, and not to the system that could not prevent them from becoming that.
Really, truly, and simply, all I am asking is for Florida to actually care as much about its athletes as it says it does.
I want Florida to do the things that prevent a Gator from having a basketball thrown at her during a heated practice and have time to make a show of promising it will find coins under its couch cushions to award to athletes who are also exemplary students. I want Florida to give gridders and laxers and cagers and divers the best coaching that it possibly can and install the right people and policies to protect those players in the event that the people hired to provide that coaching instead inflict abuse. I want Florida to make sure fans know that downloading tickets to their smartphones ahead of time is a key component to combating snarls at points of entry that have been partly created by a wrong-headed move to digital-only tickets and do everything in its power to keep those fans from raining boos or abuse on both Gators and their opponents.
I am an alumnus of the University of Florida, a Florida Gator, and a life-long Gators fan — and want to be able to stand up and holler for my school, my teams, and my Gators with as clear a conscience as possible.
It is up to Florida to restore my faith that I can.
One last thing: I want to return to the lede of Huber’s report, because I think it has both some of the best writing in the piece and some of its most powerful reporting.
This is a more extensive quote than I usually pull from any piece, but this passage is best read up to the quote that anchors it.
Tears swelled in Dana Joubert’s eyes when she saw her daughter, Mikayla Hayes, at a 2017 basketball invitational during Thanksgiving.
It was the first time Joubert had seen her daughter since she started playing basketball at UF. She anticipated minor changes typical in many college freshmen: a little weight gain, a new hairstyle and an updated fashion sense.
Instead, Hayes’ face was dotted with acne. She had put on an amount of weight that looked unusual on her skinnier frame. She was almost unrecognizable.
Every time Hayes returned to their Minnesota home, Joubert noticed she appeared less and less like herself. Around Christmas, she told her mother that her head coach hated her and the other freshmen players.
As a former basketball coach, Joubert said it’s normal for the coach to pick on freshmen. But as a Black woman, she said Hayes knew it wasn’t just tough love.
At the end of the season, the coaching staff called Hayes into a room with a table that hogged most of the space, Joubert said. All the coaches, strength and conditioning staff, athletic training staff and video coordinators crammed across where Hayes sat.
The head coach said if she chose to stay at UF, Hayes wouldn’t play, Joubert said. He slid a small sheet of paper across the table and made her sign it.
Hayes trudged out, called her mother and choked up as she told her what happened. She lost her scholarship.
“You know how you hear about people in abusive relationships and how they’re broken and they’re almost a shell,” Joubert said. “He broke my child. She was truly broken, and he beat her down. And she didn’t want me to say anything because she thought it would get worse.”
“He broke my child.”
It is, in four words, one of the saddest full stories I have ever read. It is also a simple, full, and furious condemnation of the abject failure of Cameron Newbauer to do one of the bare minimum things he is entrusted to do — to not harm one of the players in his care so profoundly that her mother was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that her child was broken — and the simultaneous failure of the system in place to prevent that harm.
And I believe that Dana Joubert knows what broken and abused children look like.
The Clemson bio for Mikayla Hayes mentions that her mom, Dana, “played basketball at the University of Minnesota and professionally overseas.” And a 2017 interview by Minnesota’s GopherSports.com with a Dana Joubert who played for the Gophers includes her mentioning her career — as a child protection social worker for Hennepin County.
I believe that Lynn Morang knows what broken and abused children look like, too.
A page for the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame indicates that the former Lynn Bay attended Boston University as an undergraduate, played for the Terriers, and lives with her husband Frank and four children, including Sydney, in Florida. The LinkedIn page for a Lynn Morang who lives in Bradenton and lists Boston University as her undergraduate alma mater and “Women’s Basketball Team” as one of her activities also has her work history — and she, too, has worked as a social worker, doing so for a number of school districts.
Two women who seemingly lived parallel lives are now bound together — but likely not by those parallel careers in social work, or through their daughters becoming friends while attending one of the best public universities in the country, or as fellow proud parents cheering for those young women as they pursued athletic glory.
No, they are sources for a story about their daughters’ alleged abuse at the hands of a man who seemingly ran those young women out of his program, but not before making sure to leave them feeling insignificant.
They deserved better than this. So did everyone affected by this wretched failure.
Monday was, one presumes, one of the worst days of the lives of all involved in this failure, and surely one of the worst days to be a citizen of Gator Nation. Monday was the day a lot of darkness came to light.
Tuesday, and every day hereafter, is an opportunity to do better — and one that I hope is seized by everyone who has realized that they must, both as a way of doing the only things that can be done now for alleged victims of something heinous and as the means of doing everything possible to prevent more failures like these.