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In recent interviews with 2aDaysStudent athletes at the University of Illinois-Springfield (UIS) have accused the head golf coach Michael Leotta of serious misconduct that exposes a disturbing pattern of abuse and systematic failure within the university’s athletic department. These revelations reflect broader problems in college sports and underscore the urgent need for reforms to protect student-athletes.

Former athletic director Laura Liesman was allegedly aware of this abuse and did not address it. The players expressed concern about Leotta’s potential return and stated that they were not willing to continue the UIS program if he remained in his position. Liesman resigned in late November 2023, and according to NPR Illinois“No reason was given.” Although the university had asked for a statement on her resignation, a response has not yet been received.

The athletes, who wished to remain anonymous, described a series of disturbing incidents involving Leotta, from verbal abuse and discrimination against international athletes to unsafe practices and neglect.

For example, during a recent match, the UIS women’s golf team had to endure 36 holes in the scorching sun for over nine and a half hours without water because Leotta allegedly failed to provide any. This incident led to an altercation at a rest stop, where Leotta reportedly reacted angrily, throwing napkins and accusing the team of a lack of competitive spirit. He reportedly attacked and harassed two international athletes, accusing them of never taking responsibility. This incident left many members of the team visibly shaken and in tears.

Following that incident, the two athletes filed a Title IX lawsuit against Leotta in October. They won the case in January, but no significant action has been taken. Leotta’s appeals have been denied twice.

Leotta’s initial welcoming demeanor reportedly changes once athletes join the team. Complaints have led to changes in accommodation practices from Airbnbs to hotel rooms. The team’s mental health has suffered, and one athlete received a mental health redshirt due to anxiety allegedly caused by Leotta.

The case of the UIS golf team reflects systemic problems in college sports. The lack of accountability and inadequate response from the athletic department underscores the urgent need for change to ensure the safety and well-being of student-athletes. To prevent future incidents, it is imperative to address the culture of silence and tolerance of abuse in athletic programs.

Universities must implement stronger oversight mechanisms, provide better support systems, and enforce stricter penalties for misconduct. Holding everyone accountable, providing transparent and anonymous reporting processes, and making the mental and physical well-being of athletes a top priority are critical steps to creating a safer and more supportive environment for all student-athletes.

Image from the University of Illinois Springfield — Flickr

  • Jessie Wynn

    Jessi Wynn is a 2aDays intern in the summer of 2024. She graduated from Florida State University in May 2024 with a double major in public relations and sports management. Jessi will continue her education at Florida State University and pursue a master’s degree in sports management starting in the fall of 2024. She aspires to work in public relations for a professional sports team or league. Connect with Jessi on Instagram @jwynn03 and LinkedIn @Jessi-Wynn.

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