By : Sam Kliss( Journalist) & Eilene Koo(Editor)
September 9, 2020
Why are we Ignoring Our Girls?
In early March Wesleyan cross country athletes and alumni published an open letter to call out the mistreatment they faced during their time as student athletes. The issues surrounded the common intense diet culture of the sport. Their coach, John Crooke, held ‘fat talks’ where he collected and reviewed food diaries, then told them to lose weight and reduce their caloric intakes. He claimed that losing weight would make them run faster. Athletes taken to these meetings were instructed to not tell others about them.
Finally the truth came out when alumni bravely published their letter. Unfortunately the school’s response did not lead to the outcome the girls sought out. The day the letter was published, a 4 month investigation ensued. In July 2020, the school had decided that Crooke had not violated any school policies. After 50 interviews and 4 months of investigation, John Crooke was set to lead the charge in rebuilding the team environment at Wesleyan. He was asked to work towards meeting the same demands in the letter that was published denouncing him. The team unsurprisingly has had poor results and a low retention rate under Crooke. Having the man responsible for their troubles leading the charge against that behavior just didn’t make sense.
John Crooke retired one August. He has refused to speak with any media on the subject of the fat talks at Wesleyan. He got to leave on his own terms. Many of the girls were not given that opportunity and felt as if they had to quit their sport for the sake of their mental health. So this poses the question, “Why are we ignoring our girls?” “Why didn’t the school fire him after the interviews?” There are no clear answers to these questions, but coaches creating and unsafe environment for their runners is not new. Eating disorders in runners occur at a much higher rate than the average girl. Coaches must be aware of their responsibility to build healthy relationships with food, since they handle high risk groups. This is especially important for those who work with female athletes.
Every level of the sport has seen issues with food and the girls at Wesleyan are unfortunately another example of abuse on the collegiate level. Recently schools like the University of Arizona and Villanova have also had similar allegations about diet cultures forced upon athletes by coaches. This type of abusive behavior is even seen on the professional level. For example Alberto Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project weighed athletes in front of each other and told them they had to hit their goal weights, which progressively got lower. Pro athletes like Mary Cain and Kara Goucher survived his abuse and are now rallying support for these collegiate athletes who are suffering much like they were. Even on the youth level this is present. I’ve run cross country for 5 years and knew of coaches who’d collect calorie logs from girls as young as 13.
So why are we ignoring our girls? Why don’t we remove their abuser right away? Why do we let the abuser leave on their own terms, while our girls drop out due to chronic injuries caused by malnutrition? Hopefully the NCAA and all schools within it will have a 0 tolerance policy for this behavior in the future. We must start taking care of these athletes and encouraging them to fuel their body. In pro marathoner Kim Connely’s words we need to send the message to be “strong not skinny”. Health must be prioritized in sport. We can no longer ignore the plight of female athletes.