There’s a USA TODAY piece out this morning detailing allegations by Sharon Lewis, who is currently an associate athletic director at LSU and has worked in the football office at the university for two decades, of mistreatment and breathtakingly bad management within that department for a very long time. Lewis’ story is of a piece with the mushrooming sexual assault scandal within the LSU athletic department and most of it is already documented in previous reporting and investigations both by the media and the university’s own hired hands.
Reading the USA TODAY piece will make it very clear what a joke the university is from top to bottom and how badly it needs not a housecleaning but a fumigation.
The people who make out worst in the story are a pair of upper-management officials in the LSU athletic department, Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, who had both been suspended from their duties earlier this year as a reaction to the Husch Blackwell report which blew the sexual assault scandal sky-high in the first place.
Top Louisiana State University officials conspired to cover up football coach Les Miles’ sexual harassment, then engaged in a years-long retaliation against the employee who reported it, the employee alleged in a series of federal and state lawsuits expected to be filed this week.
Sharon Lewis, LSU’s associate athletic director of football recruiting, named several senior officials who she claims tormented her, discriminated based on sex and race, underpaid her and contributed to LSU’s systemic failure to protect students and hold perpetrators accountable for gendered violence and harassment.
Attorneys for Lewis said they plan to file a federal Title IX lawsuit, a state whistleblower lawsuit, an Equal Employment Opportunity grievance and a civil lawsuit under the federal RICO statute, which is used to dismantle organized crime rings.
Defendants in the lawsuits include Executive Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry and Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar – the only two LSU officials disciplined last month in connection with the school’s years-long, widespread mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations.
The biggest-ticket item among Lewis’ allegations might actually be the one which sounds most defensible – namely, that Lewis took criticism because Les Miles, LSU’s former football coach who comes off in all of this reporting as a complete cretin and who was fired at Kansas after all of this broke, didn’t think the girls she hired as hostesses for football recruits to interact with on visits to the campus were good-looking enough.
Isolating all of Miles’ other behavior from this specific allegation, one could conclude the coach might have had a point. Apparently Lewis’ hostesses weren’t very glamorous and Miles was going for as many hot blondes as he could get among the hostesses. Regardless of how politically correct it might be to say it, football recruits regardless of race are uber-jock superstars who are used to getting attention from the best-looking girls at their schools, and if you’re recruiting against the Alabamas, Georgias, Floridas, Texas A&M’s, Texases and Clemsons of the world you had better show these kids that the women on your campus are just as impressive at as those other schools.
To the extent Miles had a legitimate complaint, and it seems as though Ausberry and Segar didn’t disagree, maybe Lewis wasn’t great at that aspect of her job.
But it gets a whole lot worse than that, and it’s strange USA TODAY led with Miles wanting more hot blondes for recruiting hostesses.
Lewis said Miles harassed and undermined her for years, trying to sexualize the group of student workers she supervised. Ausberry verbally abused her, she said, and he and Segar lied to an LSU Title IX investigator to get her in trouble.
Lewis, the first Black woman football recruiting director in the Southeastern Conference, said she was denied pay raises and promotions, ridiculed in front of her co-workers and told to find another job when she complained. She suffered a mental breakdown, she said.
The harassment and retaliation against Lewis started within days of Miles’ arrival as LSU’s newly hired head football coach in January 2005, Lewis alleged in her lawsuit and in an interview with USA TODAY.
Lewis, who was hired in 2002, was in charge of coordinating travel, lodging, meals and meetings for recruits and their families during official visits to LSU. She managed a group of student workers who assisted with recruiting, including hosting recruits during campus visits.
Hostess groups, which were almost always all-women, were an under-the-radar but commonplace part of college football until 2004, when the NCAA took measures to rein them back after high-profile incidents at the University of Colorado and Arizona State. Hostesses said they had supplied alcohol and sex to recruits, and some said football players had raped them.
Although LSU’s hostess program – called Tiger Pride – was officially disbanded around that time, the sexualization of LSU’s football recruiting staff resumed almost immediately after Miles’ hiring, Lewis said.
Miles repeatedly pressured Lewis to replace Black student workers on her recruiting staff with blond women or light-skinned Black women whom he considered prettier, Lewis said. When she refused, she said, he directed others to get Lewis to comply with his demands. Her attempts to report his behavior fell on deaf ears, she said.
Among the incidents she described was a meeting on Miles’ second or third day on the job. Miles told a coach in the room that he preferred blondes, not brunettes, working in his office. He said it without looking at Lewis, even though she was right next to him, she said.
About a month later, according to Lewis, Miles said of a blond woman they hired, “Now she’s the face of recruiting.” Lewis perceived his comments as racist, she said.
Without taking up for Miles in any way, shape or form, he had been a successful coach at Oklahoma State before arriving at LSU and he’d been an assistant at a bunch of places before that. And Miles hadn’t been successful because his X’s and O’s were any good as any observer of his teams could attest. It was because he knew how to recruit. What Lewis may have perceived as racism was probably a perception shared by black kids the football program was recruiting. Highly attractive women are highly attractive well across racial lines. And Ausberry and Segar made it fairly clear to Lewis that the football coach who was accountable for the success of a program which literally keeps the entire athletic department afloat was the one giving the orders.
If he wanted hot blondes for recruiting hostesses, her job was to give him hot blondes. It didn’t matter what a creep he was.
Lewis said Miles came to her office and told her they had “too many fat girls, Black girls and ugly girls,” and they “look like a bad bowling team.” She said he described ugly girls as “a.m. girls” who should be relegated to office work, and “blondes with big boobs” as “p.m. girls” who should be at recruiting events for people to look at.
In November 2010, LSU hosted quarterback recruit Zach Mettenberger on an official visit. Miles needed a quarterback, and Mettenberger had just been kicked off the University of Georgia football team after he was accused of groping the breasts and buttocks of a student at a bar. Mettenberger pleaded guilty to counts of battery that May and was sentenced to a year of probation.
In a staff meeting after Mettenberger’s visit, Miles complained that LSU’s recruiting girls were ugly and that when he was head coach at Oklahoma State University, he interviewed and picked the girls himself. Miles didn’t realize Lewis was there, she said, until all the coaches looked at her. She said she felt shocked, embarrassed and isolated.
Miles pressured his staff to get Lewis to comply, she said. According to Lewis, then-running backs coach Frank Wilson and then-director of player personnel Sherman Morris instructed her to hire fewer Black girls or at least lighter-skinned Black girls to “get Coach Miles off my back.” Wilson and Morris met with Lewis’ colleagues, she said, and asked them to help influence Lewis “to do what Les Miles wanted.”
Lewis reported all this to Ausberry, Bahnsen and other administrators, she said, but they seemed to take Miles’ side. Bahnsen “hinted that maybe it was time for me to look for another job,” Lewis said. Ausberry told her she used to hire prettier girls and should resume doing so, referring to a white woman she’d hired, Lewis said. He told her to focus more on her job and less on Miles’ comments and said she “should have taken the job at Alabama.”
“That is when the panic started to set in,” Lewis said, “because I realized they didn’t have my back.”
Well, no. Of course they don’t have your back. Welcome to the power dynamics of a major athletic program – the football coach can get fired for going 8-4 and he’s making five million dollars a year trying to win national championships at the top of an exceptionally competitive profession, so when it comes to things like who represents his program when he’s recruiting the very best athletes in the country with his job on the line, you give him what he wants. And if you can’t do that, then yeah – you should get another job.
USA TODAY’s reporting makes it sound like this is where the scandal is, which is idiotic.
In any event, it gets less defensible from there.
After years of being rebuffed by Lewis, she said, Miles decided in early 2012 to start personally interviewing student workers in his office at night.
This plan, which was authorized by Ausberry, Bahnsen and director of football operations Sam Nader over Lewis’ objections, led to the sexual harassment of several of Lewis’ employees and triggered an internal investigative report that campus officials and board members sought to conceal, Lewis said.
It was, Lewis said, her “worst nightmare.”
Some of the women disclosed to Lewis that during the meetings, Miles asked them about their sex life, she said. One student said Miles asked her whether she was a virgin.
Then, around the same time that LSU negotiated a new, $4.3 million-per-year contract with Miles that made him the fourth-highest paid college football coach in the country, Miles’ behavior escalated.
Miles apparently attacked one of the girls, jumping on top of her on one of the couches in his office. This was in 2013. When the student worker in question filed a complaint against Miles it was covered up. They moved her out of the football office and they told Miles he couldn’t interact with the hostesses or student workers anymore.
By 2013 Miles had already flirted with job offers from Michigan and Arkansas, and athletic director Joe Alleva had given him a massive contract extension. The fans were beginning to turn on Miles, as LSU’s fortunes on the field were beginning to fade from the national runner-up 2011 team’s performance. There was more than enough reason to force him out.
Alleva wouldn’t do it.
Even after it surfaced that Miles began creeping on another student worker, sending her inappropriate text messages and giving her unwanted kisses. An outside investigation at the time found that Miles hadn’t sexually harassed the student, but that his behavior was inappropriate. He was reprimanded.
All of this was known when Miles’ program proceeded to take a dump in 2014 and 2015, posting mediocre seasons and having its fans turning against him. LSU had reason to fire him for cause, or at least use the allegations as leverage to greatly ratchet down a buyout they would pay him, but that wasn’t done. Alleva tried to fire Miles in 2015; school president F. King Alexander wouldn’t let him. And Alleva was too cowardly to give Alexander a “he goes or I go” ultimatum, knowing that if he leaked the information he had on Miles it would have been impossible to keep the coach.
And Miles was fired anyway in 2016. Lewis says she was retaliated against anyway by Ausberry and Segar and others.
She claims she didn’t assist in covering up the allegations that LSU wide receiver Drake Davis physically abused his girlfriend. It’s hard to sort that out. We do know the Davis domestic abuse was covered up by the athletic department, and we know that the athletic department covered up Derrius Guice’s sexual abuse of women while a member of the LSU football team.
Which brings us to another news report we find a bit peculiar.
This one involves Gloria Scott, a 74-year-old woman who in 2017 was working as a security guard at the Superdome in New Orleans while the high school football state championships were going on. Guice, then a junior star running back for LSU, was there at the Dome and approached a restricted area Scott was monitoring. He then engaged in entirely inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature with her.
Naturally, she was upset about that, and she approached LSU over the incident.
Guice wasn’t at the Superdome representing LSU, of course, and at that point he only had one more game to play. LSU was going to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, and after that game Guice was going pro. Scott wanted Guice suspended for that game. But when her camp approached Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, an alternative was brought up…
LSU documented several instances in 2017 when Gloria Scott contacted university officials to report that former star running back Derrius Guice had sexually harassed her, but the direction of their inquiry into Scott’s allegations changed after a man who represented her asked LSU to pay her.
Scott told The Advocate | The Times-Picayune that she never authorized the man, New Orleans youth basketball coach Cleavon Williams, to ask LSU for money over the Guice incident. Scott said she asked Williams for his help because she wanted to report that Guice had sexually harassed her, and she wanted him barred from playing in the 2018 Citrus Bowl.
But audio recordings, text messages and police reports obtained through public records requests show that Williams made an additional demand of sorts. He told Athletic Department officials that Scott would go public with her story if the university did not pay her $100,000 or withhold Guice from the Citrus Bowl.
Scott says Williams made that request without her permission, and, in any event, experts who represent sexual harassment victims say that demands for money in the wake of harassment are common, expected and do not diminish the credibility of a victim’s testimony. The request from Williams, however, appears to have changed LSU’s view of Scott’s complaint against Derrius Guice.
Ausberry and Segar saw that as blackmail, and probably rightly so. Scott had filed a report with the New Orleans Police Department, and Guice’s behavior was due to be adjudicated there. Her demand that he be suspended for the Citrus Bowl wasn’t acted upon.
Now Scott claims that Ed Orgeron, who took over for Miles during the 2016 season and was hired as the permanent coach starting in 2017, ignored her claims. Orgeron says he doesn’t remember the incident, which probably isn’t true. What probably is true but likely can’t be said in the current “woke” environment is that at the time the allegation against Guice was just that, an allegation, and Orgeron chose to let Guice play his last game at LSU because he didn’t have proof the allegation was true.
Except there were other allegations about Guice. He’s been accused by four women of sexual abuse from his time at LSU, including two rape allegations. He was also accused of sharing a partially nude photo of another woman without her consent and then there is the Gloria Scott accusation. Guice maintains his innocence in each case.
You’d think the rape allegations, and whether they were covered up, would be the real crux of the matter, but there is a Louisiana state senate committee looking into all of the LSU sexual assault mess and for some reason Gloria Scott has emerged as its star witness.
Part of Scott’s frustration over the incident was how LSU handled her reporting of it. She told members of the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children that she called the LSU Athletic Department afterward, asking for them to hold Guice from playing in the Citrus Bowl. She said they refused.
As Scott testified, State Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, accused LSU of retaliating against Scott in 2017 “because when you called the reporters, someone from the entity told them you were trying to get money.”
“Yeah,” Scott responded.
“And that’s how they killed the story,” Jackson added.
The committee has demanded that Orgeron testify in front of it. LSU announced yesterday that he’d be sending a letter rather than testifying, which is likely prudent because Ed Orgeron is a football coach and not a lawyer, and Ed Orgeron is very unlikely to do well in front of a committee of female legislators looking to make names for themselves at his expense. But the letter isn’t what they want.
The committee’s agenda asked for those invited to “attend in person or submit a written statement” by Tuesday. Orgeron is not expected to attend the hearing and plans on submitting a written statement, sources told The Advocate | Times-Picayune.
State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who leads the committee, said Monday she had not yet gotten a response from LSU. Letters sent to the committee are still technically testimony, but it is more common for LSU officials to appear in person when requested. The Legislature oversees and votes on budget issues that impact higher education.
And then there’s this…
NEW: Sen. Regina Barrow tells me she reached back out to Ed Orgeron Monday night to clarify that her committee needs his testimony in person Thursday.
In an email, Barrow told him he has until noon Tuesday to respond.
— Johnston von Springer (@johnstonvon) April 6, 2021
So far as we know the committee doesn’t have subpoena power and they did expressly allow a written statement. The question is whether this is incompetence at work or if it’s a dance designed to make the legislators involved look like they’re doing something without actually reforming LSU.
What you’ll notice is that all of this reporting focuses on Ausberry and Segar. It doesn’t focus up the line. And while F. King Alexander’s name has come up in the sexual assault scandal, as it should, we’re largely talking about things which are old and now involve people who aren’t around anymore.
Les Miles. Joe Alleva. Alexander. Former members of the LSU Board of Supervisors like Stanley Jacobs.
There was a report commissioned into these subjects and delivered in 2019 by Kenneth Polite, who had served as the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans. That report was delivered to Mary Werner, who was then the chair of the LSU Board. She was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards in that role. And nothing was done about the Polite report. They swept it all under the rug.
This scandal is about sweeping things under the rug and never fixing any of the causes.
Mary Werner is still on the LSU Board. Verge Ausberry, whose political connections are immaculate, and Miriam Segar are back at work in the LSU athletic department. The AD, Scott Woodward, a politically-connected insider and ally of the governor’s, has done almost nothing to clean up what is clear dysfunction within an athletic department you’d think would be undergoing a thorough housecleaning and restructuring. It was thought Woodward would do those things back in 2019 when he got the job; he hasn’t.
And meanwhile more and more revelations tumble out of LSU. So far it’s mostly the athletic department. Talk to folks on the inside and they’ll tell you it goes deeper than that.
We’ve always said the fish rots from the head down. The reporting and the outrage about the LSU scandals has focused on the rotten management of the university while Bobby Jindal was the governor. And there is no defense of Jindal’s lack of attention to LSU. He had largely checked out of governing the state in order to engage in a hapless and ill-fated presidential campaign, which negatively affected everything under him.
But the fish is still rotting. And we’ve had the current governor for five years now. Does anyone really think it’s getting better? LSU students don’t – they see Edwards as a big part of their problem. When is that accountability going to begin from the rest of the state?