SAN JOSE, CA, – Kendal Ginda hugged her teammates as they jumped and cheered in sync.
She and her San Jose State University gymnastics teammates had just won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship — a moment she’d been waiting nearly 20 years for — or so she thought.
What should have been one of the high points of her life was the lowest.
Now, nearly a decade later, she is still haunted by what she went through at university.
“I remember thinking I might as well go on the San Francisco bridge because I know people die there,” Ginda said. “And that’s the fastest way to die.
Ginda said her suicidal thoughts about falling off the Golden Gate Bridge date back she was mentally and verbally abused by her former head coach, Wayne Wright.
And now, years later, she says she’s suffering again because of the abuse and can’t get the mental health care she needs.
Abuse of details of 13 athletes
Ginda is not alone.
KTVU spoke with 13 former SJSU gymnasts, all of whom echoed the same message — they were failed by the very system put in place to protect them.
One gymnast said Wright referred to the girls on the team as girls because they wore jeans with holes.
Another said Wright named the group “The Breakfast Club,” which was reserved for women he didn’t think were in shape.
Their accusations come at a time when there is increased attention to the emotional abuse athletes suffer at the hands of their coaches – and a more open public approach to mental health awareness.
Some studies report that up to 50% of athletes have suffered anything from mild harassment to severe abuse.
These athletes are now demanding that the institutions where they gave their blood, sweat and tears do more to curb abusive coaching — including paying for much-needed therapy long after they leave the field.
Wayne Wright retired from San Jose State in 2018. Photo: SJSU News
Investigation at the coach
KTVU made several attempts to contact Wright. He did not return text messages or calls.
In 2018, the SJSU athletic department opened an investigation into Wright and interviewed nearly 30 former and current gymnasts and staff.
That investigation, obtained by KTVU, was heavily redacted by the university.
But what wasn’t completely obscured painted a dark picture.
In the documents, investigators sided with the women and concluded that Wright was guilty of verbal abuse, body shaming, manipulation, preventing athletes from receiving medical treatment, and the list goes on.
The investigation ultimately found that Wright repeatedly called the gymnasts stupid, stupid, trashy and weird — as in someone with a mental illness. One gymnast told KTVU that Wright told her to stay away from doughnuts, citing her potential to increase her weight after a family member died.
According to records, the university said their biggest concerns were Wright’s disregard for the health and safety of his team, the academic process, his use of inappropriate language to describe female athletes, his dishonesty during investigations and creating an environment of fear, intimidation. and lack of respect.
But Wright wasn’t fired.
Instead, he was allowed to leave the university on 9 July 2018.
Still accepting $34,000 a year in state pension.
San Jose State also declined KTVU’s request for an on-camera interview.
Instead, the school sent a one-paragraph statement: “SJSU’s investigation into former gymnastics coach Wayne Wright involved 29 witnesses, including 12 gymnasts who were on the 2018 team, 13 former gymnasts and four staff members. That investigation concluded on 24/2018. Mr. Wright, who was employed under a contract of employment, has separated from the University effective July 9, 2018, with an agreement not to seek or accept employment and not to volunteer for the University in the future.”
Kendal Ginda was a Spartan gymnast.
Bullying leads to long-term suffering
Many women interviewed for this story, including Amy LeClair, said bullying in college athletics is widespread.
She herself has suffered from depression and anxiety since leaving the program. She was a Spartan gymnast from 2012 to 2016.
“It’s a systemic problem within the NCAA,” LeClair said. “I think what we went through at SJSU, but I’ve heard similar stories of abuse in the NCAA.
All but one of the women KTVU spoke with say they have struggled with mental illness since leaving the show.
Ginda, who is due to give birth to her first child in a few days, says she has been diagnosed with PTSD.
Another gymnast was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. Some of these gymnasts have since developed eating disorders.
“I was so terribly abused,” LeClair said. “The mentality I got from that place got me to the hospital.
Pushing gymnasts beyond their limits
Ginda gave up her scholarship and left the gymnastics program a year early.
“I had severe depression and anxiety,” Ginda said. “I had suicidal thoughts.
She said the dehumanizing treatment was not worth another year of free education.
While in college, Ginda said she suffered from chronic back injuries, but Wright continued to push her beyond her physical limits.
She and other gymnasts said that instead of seeing San Jose State medical staff, Wright repeatedly sent them to an off-campus doctor.
“I remember him giving me medication and having the worst physical reactions,” Ginda said. “He told me I had to take it.
She said her reactions were so bad that she started passing out in practice.
“I’d say, ‘Wayne, I feel like if I do a backflip, I’m going to twist. I’m going to lose consciousness, I can’t feel my toes,'” Ginda said. “All the veins in my legs turned black, I felt extreme emotions. I told Wayne it made me feel crazy and he said ‘You’ve got to stop’.”
Alison Falat, another former gymnast, said she suffered a stress fracture in her foot at university. But every time she told Wright about the injury, he accused her of lying.
“I had to see a doctor privately who told me that if I didn’t stop training, my shin would split in half,” she said.
Journal entry former SJSU gymnast Allison Falat wrote while attending the university.
She documented her struggles in her diary.
“Back story – it took them a few weeks to even believe it was bad,” she wrote at the time. “I barely mentioned it because it was the season and I was trying to stay out of the limelight and Wayne didn’t really care, as was evident when we weren’t allowed to go into the training room for the ice bath unless we were racing.
Other women KTVU spoke with made similar claims.
A number of women said they tried to report the abuse to SJSU’s athletic department — but said their emails and messages fell on deaf ears.
Ginda said that’s because Wright was a star: He won three MPSF championships, made seven NCAA regional championships and led his gymnasts to break every team and individual record since 2004.
“Why would you question a team that’s winning?” Ginda asked rhetorically. “You wouldn’t do that.
Emotional abuse also had financial implications.
Life Insurance Co. of North America rejected LeClair supplemental life insurance in July.
She claims she was denied coverage because she suffered from postpartum depression and was hospitalized after giving birth.
However, LeClair believes her depression originally stemmed from the bullying and verbal abuse she suffered at San Jose State.
Under NCAA rules, Division I universities must provide medical care to athletes who suffer a sports-related injury for two years after they retire or graduate.
By the same token, however, each university must decide whether the injury is sports-related, whether care is required, and if so, how the care will be provided.
There are no rules to protect the mental health of former athletes.
Gymnasts say they know this all too well.
It’s too late to sue
Attorney Jemma Dunn says it’s clear the NCAA and the university’s athletic department let the case slip.
None of the women interviewed for this story are able to take legal action.
“Generally speaking, the statute of limitations against Wayne Wright or against the school for what they did would probably be around two years,” Dunn said. “There aren’t many statutes of limitations that exceed this.”
Call on the NCAA to change
What an athlete goes through in college can affect the rest of their life.
LeClair is living proof.
“I’m still in therapy,” Le Clair said. “I’ve been hospitalized. I’ve been in rehab. Financially, we’re looking at six figures.”
Experts say that in today’s climate, athletes’ mental health should be given the same importance as their physical health.
“Statutory protections for mental health should be equivalent to protections for physical health,” said Scott Herndon, an attorney in Berkeley.
Herndon believes it’s time for the NCAA to change its rules.
“The NCAA has been warning for years that college athletes are being mistreated; they need to change that,” Herndon said.
The NCAA has made changes over the years to better support the mental health of athletes.
But the disparity between supporting athletes’ physical and mental health once they leave campus is still glaring.
And no amount of financial support can wash away the memories.
“No amount of money will ever take away the experience or the feeling of wanting to jump off a bridge,” Ginda said. “No amount of money will ever change that.
Bailey O’Carroll is a reporter for KTVU. Email Bailey at [email protected] Or follow her on Twitter @baileyocarroll