Patton's resignation, alleged misconduct divides community

by Ray Lu | 7/28/16 5:30pm

7.29.16.sports.wlacrosse_Tiffany-Zhai
The athletic community reacts to the resignation of Amy Patton.
by Tiffany Zhai / Tiffany Zhai/The Dartmouth Senior Staff

UPDATED: Aug. 4, 2016 at 1:24 p.m.

On July 8, the Dartmouth athletic department announced women’s lacrosse head coach Amy Patton’s departure from the school after 26 years. Publicly, the Dartmouth women’s lacrosse community has criticized the investigation with letters and media statements. Other players interviewed by The Dartmouth that played under Patton, however, have been strongly supportive of the administration’s findings that Patton “engaged in conduct inconsistent with the standards of Dartmouth Athletics.”

“These things are never done lightly,” Dartmouth athletic director Harry Sheehy said. “These things are impactful on many people’s lives.”

The Investigation

An official grievance was filed in April and investigated by Megan Sobel, senior associate director of athletics for varsity sports and the division’s senior woman administrator, and Catherine Lark, director of college risk and internal control services.Both Sobel and Lark declined to comment for this story through Rick Bender, Dartmouth’s varsity athletics communications director.

The grievance policy from the Dartmouth College Student-Athlete handbook from 2011-2012 outlines the steps required for student-athletes to file a complaint. The handbook states “no complaint or concern should be too small to bring to someone’s attention, as long as the matter or the situation represents a condition that has grown beyond a onetime incident to one that is affecting the quality of the experience an individual or a group of individuals expects to have.”

According to a May 2 email to The Dartmouth from Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist, there have been no Title IX complaints filed since November 2015, indicating that the College’s inquiry was unrelated to Title IX.

When the investigation began in April, several players had already approached the athletic department.

“It’s probably safe to say we knew something was percolating, but again one reason for the formality of the grievance process is because it takes some work for a student-athlete to bring something forward, so that it can’t just be a willy-nilly ‘I’m not happy today’ type of situation,” Sheehy said.

Sheehy compared a student-athlete coming in to see him to a “flare” that the athletic department would then investigate.

“We go into every one of them thinking that there probably isn’t anything there, but we’re going to look,” Sheehy said. “We have to do that. It would be negligent if we didn’t do that.”

In the end, the results of the investigation were presented to Patton, who then chose to resign. Patton did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis reported that since June, the Hanover Police has been actively investigating an unrelated violation of privacy involving some students of the women’s lacrosse team. There is no estimation of when the investigation will be concluded, and the College has already conducted its own investigation into this separate complaint, he said. According to Dennis, this criminal investigation is unrelated to the College’s inquiry into Patton’s conduct and the department would not release any more information at this time. Violation of privacy is a class A misdemeanor.

Misconduct Allegations

Several sources cited a culture of bullying, distrust and emotional and verbal abuse under Patton. The Dartmouth granted anonymity to several players, who played under Patton, as they expressed fear of future abuse and retaliation.

“There’s an overwhelming silent majority that feels very grateful and very happy for what the athletic department has done,” one player who played under Patton said.

The player said that there are many players who are unwilling to publicly come forward in fear of retribution from the rest of the Dartmouth women’s lacrosse community.

“It makes sense that the silent majority who were abused by Amy are not coming forward and speaking their mind,” the player said. “They’re just silently thanking the administration.”

According to the player, several student-athletes that played under Patton also attended therapy sessions as a result of the coach’s treatment.

The player cited “check-ins,” private meetings with Patton, as a vehicle for misconduct. Assistant coaches would tap players at practice and inform them that Patton wanted to meet with them at some point the next day. In check-ins, the player said, Patton sometimes turned abusive depending on her mood or the player’s standing with the team, attacking a player’s physical appearance or intelligence.

“People would stay up ruminating the night before, fearful of what would happen [during their check-in],” the player said.

The player also mentioned that most student-athletes buy into the culture that Patton cultivated, believing that the former coach’s methodology was making them “a better person” or “a better player.”

“But these aren’t the ways to become a better person or a better player as seen by the millions of other athletic departments and athletic teams that produce high-functioning, great contributors to society,” the player said.

The player also described a polarized team environment in her account.

“You look at any other team across the country, across sports, across colleges,” the player said. “If you look at them, there are people [who]don’t like the coach and do like the coach, and they co-exist. There aren’t any hard feelings. But here, it’s either you’re with us or you’re against us.”

Patton’s alleged misconduct also affected student-athlete lives outside of the team environment.

“She completely destroyed my love of the game,” another player who played under Patton said. “At points, I had to leave class, because I was so distracted by the thought of going to practice.”

The player said that misconduct started to occur from her very first days on the team.

“Freshman fall, since the first day, Amy had a special talent [for]making girls feel like there was something wrong with them,” the player said. “Girl after girl signed up to see counseling because of her. She claimed that she would break girls down and then build them back up.”

Patton’s coaching methodology was both emotionally and verbally abusive, the player said.

“Personally, over and over she took blows at my confidence,” the player said. “She certainly broke me down and never seemed to care about building me back up. She proved herself to be nothing but malicious, disrespectful and crazed, and she treated my life like a game.”

There was “absolutely no sense of trust” in the team environment and “all relationships were very fake,” the player said. The player believed that the former coach created an oppressive, distrusting environment by verbally attacking players and encouraged a culture of “ratting teammates out.” According to the player, the team had “a total mob mentality and girls were constantly being singled out.” Patton would try to dig into players’ personal lives, the player said.

“She squeezes the nitty-gritty details about your life, things that you don’t want to be shared publicly,” the player said. “She harasses people for things that you can’t change, like physical qualities.”

Patton also picked favorites, the player said, who were “brainwashed” and “could do no wrong in Amy’s eyes.” According to the player, Patton “tormented” freshmen. The relationship would improve as players stayed with the program and attempted to curry favor with Patton in order to vie for leadership positions later on. The player cited this cycle of behavior as a key enabler of Patton’s misconduct.

“I understand that Amy has been at Dartmouth forever and she has had success in the past on the Ivy and national level[s], but after what I have been through I can tell you that her tenure and success is not indicative of the health of the program,” the player said.

A third player who played under Patton said that she heard stories about Patton’s conduct when she was being recruited to play at Dartmouth, but she thought that she was “strong-minded” enough to handle a difficult coaching environment. Once she was in the program, however, the player said that she realized Patton was a “mentally abusive coach who would attack your physical and emotional weaknesses.”

“I realized that her toughness went outside of lacrosse,” the player said.

The player also saw signs of misconduct from the beginning of freshman fall, but she attributed this, at first, to the college lacrosse environment.

“I started noticing this pattern of comments seeming to cross the line of professional and getting into the personal area, but at the time I just figured that’s just NCAA and Division I lacrosse,” the player said.

The player also mentioned a culture of “double standards” in which Patton treated different players differently.

“If you couldn’t get in line or if you showed any sense of being upset with the way Amy coached us or having any criticisms, you would be punished by the team,” the player said.

According to the player, Patton created a culture of mistrust to the point where players couldn’t trust each other or the assistant coaches, even if it was just about a bad day at practice.

“Any assistant coaches that really seemed to care about the players all left the program shortly after,” the player said. “We had so many different assistant coaches that came in and out.”

The player believed that players wouldn’t speak out against Amy Patton’s behavior for fear of retribution from the team. The player also stated that she has heard many stories of Patton’s misconduct from other players who played under Patton, but complaints to the athletic department fell on deaf ears.

“There’s a lot of girls out there who had a miserable experience but are absolutely terrified of speaking up, because there is a huge alumni network and all the girls that are still on campus don’t want to be ostracized,” the player said.

Public Support

Public letters from past and present Dartmouth women’s lacrosse players and coaches circulated throughout the media in support of Patton since her resignation.

The Friends of Dartmouth Lacrosse Women’s Advisory Board released a letter on June 13 to Dartblog addressed to College President Phil Hanlon and the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, stating that the Advisory Board is “stunned” by the announcement of Patton’s resignation.

“I was obviously incredibly disappointed and generally thought that the press release was in poor taste and reflects, frankly, poorly on Dartmouth as well as the athletic program,” said Shannie Mackenzie ’11, a member of the Friends of Dartmouth Lacrosse Women’s Advisory Board.

Mackenzie played under Patton from 2008 to 2011 and served as a team captain her senior year.

The letter raised several concerns with the inquiry process, including a “highly intimidating” interview process as well as “unethical” administrator conduct throughout the interview.

The current Dartmouth lacrosse team sent a letter to The Dartmouth after several current players declined to be interviewed.

“It is possible that Amy may have been misunderstood by those who have never had the opportunity of putting on a jersey for her,” the letter stated.

The team’s letter described Patton as “an incredible coach, a mentor, and someone who upheld the Dartmouth way.”

“She gave her life to this program,” the letter said. “It is no coincidence that more Dartmouth parents and alumni appear at away games than the home teams’ fans. Amy created a family out of Dartmouth Women’s Lacrosse that transcends the game itself.”

On July 29, LaxMagazine published a letter of support from 118 former lacrosse players who praised Patton as both a mentor and role model. The letter expresseddisappointment in the tone of the College press release as well as questioned how the inquiry was handled.

"There are hundreds of women who have played for Amy over the years, who love and admire her, and who remain grateful for the lessons of hard work and community she has shared in her Dartmouth tenure and beyond," the alumnae wrote. "She has been a role model through her own work ethic and dedication to the program and to the individuals who have worn the Dartmouth uniform."

On Aug. 3, Inside Lacrosse published a collection of stories from former players titled "Thank you, Amy."Halley Quillinan, an Inside Lacrosse women's editor who played under Patton briefly on the U.S national team, wrote the introduction to the collection, noting the significance of the format.

"It became clear that this story had to be in the voices of the players Coach Patton had forever changed — or to them simply, 'Amy,'" Quillinan wrote.

Quillinan noted her time playing with former Big Green players on the New York Athletic Club

"Each of the Dartmouth players would recall what it was like to play for Amy, and it was quickly apparent how much she demanded of her girls; but their appreciation and gratitude towards her was clear in every word they spoke and story they told," Quillinan wrote.

Former athletic director and women’s lacrosse head coach Josie Harper expressed her disappointment in the findings of the investigation in a July 19letter to the editors of The Valley News.

“I personally will never believe what was stated in the Dartmouth press release, that Amy Patton ‘engaged in conduct inconsistent with the standards of Dartmouth athletics,’” Harper wrote.

Harper served as the women’s lacrosse head coach from 1981 to 1992. She hired Patton as an assistant coach in 1990 before transitioning to work in administration. Harper was Dartmouth’s athletic director from 2002 to 2009.

Recently graduated players also voiced support for Patton. This past season, the team finished 7-8 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League. In the 2015 season, the team finished3-11 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League. The three wins were the fewest for the team since 1982.

“I think it’s just so disappointing that this is how it ended because she in her 26 years was not only a great lacrosse coach but just a great mentor that empowered so many women and produced so many incredible leaders,” said Jaclyn Leto ’16, who served as a co-captain of the women’s lacrosse team in Patton’s final season.

Leto said that players were sent an email at 9 p.m. on July 7 to participate in a 9 a.m. conference call. On the morning of July 8, Bender sent out the College press release.

Leto said that from her point of view, there didn’t seem to be any signs that this was going to happen.

“I can’t really speak to many of the [misconduct] allegations, but all I know is from what they were, I had never seen any of the allegations being done at practice,” Leto said.

Campbell Probert ’16, the other co-captain, echoed Leto’s sentiments.

“A lot of us didn’t quite understand what was behind the investigation, especially in the context of Amy and the coaches,” Probert said.

Probert said her first reaction was confusion, and then that she was disappointed by how it was conducted as the investigation progressed.

“I’ve always really respected and admired her coaching style,” Probert said. “She’s generally the type of coach that recognizes your own potential before you do.”

Patton served as Dartmouth’s head coach for 24 years and assistant coach for two. She departs Hanover with a 248-138 overall record and 119-44 in Ivy League play.

Under Patton, the team found much postseason success, winning nine Ivy League titles as well as making 13 NCAA tournament appearances. In 2006, Dartmouth advanced to the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship, where they lost to Northwestern University 7-4. The game was the Big Green’s first ever title game.

The team finished under .500 the past three seasons, compiling a 16-27 overall record and 9-12 in Ivy League play.

Landscape across the country

Stories of coaching abuse have appeared in the media more commonly as of late. This proliferation may indicate a shift in coaching standards in terms of what is or isn’t acceptable.

“The landscape is rife with this kind of stuff,” Sheehy said.

In 2013, Mike Rice, the head coach of the Rutgers University men’s basketball team, was fired after videos surfaced of Rice verbally and physically abusing his players at practice. Rice was fired the day after the video was released.

Former Women’s National Basketball Association star Sheryl Swoopes was fired from her women’s basketball head coaching position at Loyola University Chicago after the university investigated claims that she mistreated her players.

Most recently, in a July 21 Washington Post article, anonymous past and present George Washington University men’s basketball players reported “verbal and emotional abuse” from head coach Mike Lonergan.

Future of Dartmouth women’s lacrosse

Sheehy said on July 14 that he hoped to hire a new head coach within the next two to three weeks.

“Ideally what we want is to help the players move forward, and the way we do that is to have an efficient hiring, with them involved in the process,” Sheehy said.

Patton is also the sixth head coach to leave Hanover since last October. Women’s lacrosse joins swimming and diving, volleyball, men’s basketball, women’s ice hockey and men’s Nordic skiing as sports that will have a new head coach at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

Some players had unforgettable memories under Patton, while others referred to it as the worst time of their lives.

MacKenzie said that she was sad that future Dartmouth women’s lacrosse players wouldn’t get the opportunity to play for Patton. Others expressed the opposite sentiment.

“I’m just relieved that the incoming freshman class won’t be subjected to Patton’s mental abuse,” one player said.

Correction appended (July 29, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the women's lacrosse team finished its 2016 season 3-11 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League. In fact, last season the team finished 7-8 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League. In the 2015 season, the team finished3-11 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League. Those three wins were the fewest for the team since 1982.

Correction appended (July 30, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Jaclyn Leto '16 said that players were sent a press release at 9 p.m. the day before the results of the investigation were announced at 9 a.m. In fact, the players were sent an email informing them of a 9 a.m. conference call.