A former University of Arizona athlete filed a notice of claim on March 5 against the university, the Arizona Board of Regents and coaches within the track and field program, including head coach Fred Harvey.
The suit — filed by attorney William “Bill” Walker on behalf of his client Michael Grabowski, a former distance runner on both the cross country and track and field teams — alleges a toxic team culture, an assault by Harvey and a subsequent cover-up.
“Almost immediately upon joining the team, Mr. Grabowski began being bullied by many of his teammates,” the claim alleges. “Two members of the team [names redacted] continued to regularly taunt Mr. Grabowski with sexual slurs as to his sexual orientation and several other matters.”
The claim alleges Grabowski went to head cross-country coach and associate head track and field coach James Li in August before the 2018 season, where Li brought up the topic of bullying.
After Grabowski confirmed the same two runners were bullying him and others on the team, Li supposedly replied, “You can’t single out the two best runners on the team,” before ending the meeting.
Then, on Sept. 12, 2018, Grabowski attended another meeting, this time with Harvey, Li and assistant coach Hanna Peterson. Ben Crawford, another assistant in the track program, would later join the meeting, according to the claim.
At this meeting, Grabowski was informed he “was no longer on the roster” of the track program. When he asked why, “Harvey became irate, approached Grabowski, grabbed him by the wrists and threw him down. At this point, Mr. Grabowski fainted,” the claim alleges.
The claim alleges Crawford called 911 in response and reported Grabowski had attempted to commit suicide.
When police arrived, according to the claim, Grabowski agreed to be transported to Banner University Medical Center — not due to a suicide attempt, but instead because he had fainted.
“Mr. Grabowski was transferred to Banner South, was checked out at the hospital and immediately released with no indications of suicidal ideology,” the claim reads.
Chris Sigurdson, spokesperson for the UA, said in an email the university learned of the allegations within Grabowski’s notice of claim sometime in fall 2018. He said several inquiries into the matter were made at the time.
“The personnel review concluded that the coaches and staff acted appropriately,” Sigurdson said. “The subsequent hospital referral process was reviewed by a senior medical professional in the athletic department and was determined to have been ‘best practice.’”
The UA's position is “there is a distinct disparity between the allegations in the claim and the concerns raised last fall,” said Sigurdson.
In an additional response to the allegations, the Daily Wildcat received a letter signed by current and former track and field athletes in support of Harvey. It defends the embattled coach, citing his “positive impact” and his “tempered, rational and moral actions.”
However, the letter does not directly address allegations made in the notice of claim.
“With this statement we simply want to share our experience as members of Coach Harvey’s track and field team,” it reads. “The image of Coach Harvey projected by the recent allegations is entirely inconsistent with the man we know and esteem.”
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