01:16 - Source: WCVB
Former athlete accuses coach of abuse

Story highlights

A former basketball player says she was physically abused by her coach

Ashley Cooper, 20, says Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons hit her, yanked her collar

Holy Cross will review the allegations; Gibbons is on administrative leave

(CNN) —  

A College of the Holy Cross basketball player accused her coach of being “verbally, emotionally and physically abusive” in a lawsuit filed this week in a New York court.

And on Wednesday, that coach, Bill Gibbons, announced to the team that he would “step back” from his duties while the college reviews the allegations.

Ashley Cooper, 20, was a student athlete at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, on a full athletic scholarship from 2011 to May. During that time, she claims Gibbons shook and struck her, according to the complaint.

Gibbons’ behavior included “violently yanking” Cooper’s shirt collar, squeezing her neck and hitting her on the back hard enough to leave a red hand-print on her skin during one basketball game in January 2012, the complaint says.

During one basketball game, Gibbons’ behavior prompted players on the opposing team to comment, “Your coach is crazy,” according to the complaint filed Tuesday.

In 2011, a psychological professional who was brought in to discuss team chemistry revealed that the only issues the team had were related to Gibbons’ abuse, according to the complaint.

After several incidents, Cooper and her teammates complained to the athletic director’s office, but their coaches retaliated for “going over their heads,” according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also alleges that school officials were aware of the abuse but did nothing to address or stop it.

“Ashley was told, ‘stop complaining’,” Elizabeth Eilender, Cooper’s attorney, told CNN Tuesday. “Eventually we realized nothing would happen and took the next step.”

Holy Cross will review the allegations in the lawsuit, a spokeswoman said.

“The physical, mental and emotional well-being of our students is our highest priority at Holy Cross,” Ellen Ryder, director of public affairs at Holy Cross, said in a statement. “We just received the lawsuit and are in the process of reviewing it. Ms. Cooper had brought her concern to the College, and we investigated at that time. The lawsuit we received includes a series of new allegations and we will now bring in outside counsel to review them.”

Holy Cross said Wednesday that Gibbons had announced to the team that he would “step back from his coaching duties while the college reviews the claims” in the lawsuit. During that review, Gibbons will be on administrative leave with pay, the college said.

Gibbons is currently in his 29th season as coach of the basketball team, and according to the school’s website, he is the most victorious coach in Holy Cross’ history.

CNN’s calls to Gibbons for comment were not immediately returned.

Cooper is filing this lawsuit not only for herself, but for all women athletes who are abused by their coaches, the lawsuit says.

“This has been going on forever. It just takes somebody strong enough like Ashley to stand up to this coach and this institution,” Eilender said. “The real question is, why is this institution continuing to protect him?”

Eilender also noted that the majority of the women’s basketball team at Holy Cross holds athletic scholarships, making them “beholden to the school.”

“Everyone is on scholarships,” Eilender said. “They’re not going to say anything.”

According to Eilender, former players have now reached out to Cooper thanking her for taking a stand against something that has been going on for years without consequence.

In the lawsuit, Cooper alleges that the behavior of Gibbons’ exceeds that of former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice.

Rice was seen on a tape that surfaced in April throwing basketballs at his players, shoving them, cursing and using a homophobic slur. He was fired shortly after the tape aired on ESPN. Rice later apologized for his actions.

Cooper has since transferred this fall to New York University and is not playing basketball, according to Eilender.

“To transfer in the middle of her college experience is extremely traumatic to her, but she felt she had no other choice in light of Coach Gibbons’ abuse of her,” Eilender said.

Rutgers coach fired after abusive video broadcast