Former SJSU gymnast latest to settle claim in trainer sex abuse

SAN JOSE – Another San Jose State athlete has come forward with sexual assault accusations against former head athletic trainer Scott Shaw, expanding the scandal that led to $5 million in payouts to more than two dozen victims and the resignations of the university’s athletic director and president.

But in telling her story, the woman revealed another, little-known scandal within the embattled university athletics department in recent years: the allegedly relentless bullying of student-athletes by the former head gymnastics coach.

Wayne Wright, who coached the Spartans to three conference championships over two decades, stepped down in 2018 after 25 gymnasts came forward as part of a university investigation with accounts that Wright instilled a culture of fear and intimidation and called the gymnasts “stupid” and ” end” or “whore.”

Despite those findings, Wright departed with accolades from former athletic director Marie Tuite, but no apparent public acknowledgment of the investigation. And he was praised again earlier this year in a social media post by the gymnastics program in February, then named in a fundraising appeal in April – which the university now says was a mistake.

San Jose State’s gymnastics program tweeted this photo in February of head coach Joanne Bowers, center, flanked by former coaches Jackie Walker and Wayne Wright. When the Bay Area News Group asked about the post thanking Wright for his contributions to Spartan gymnastics — despite his departure under the cloud of a 2018 investigation — a university spokesman said the post was a mistake and it has been deleted. (San Jose State Gymnastics Twitter page/Wayback Machine Internet Archive)

Amy LeClair, a 2016 graduate who said she was both a victim of Shaw’s sexual abuse and Wright’s intimidation, could hardly believe it.

“I was just like, are you kidding me,” she said in an interview last month with the Bay Area News Group. “It’s just so insulting. After everything that CSU and SJSU have been through in terms of the scrutiny, the investigations, FBI involvement, Department of Justice involvement, they are still doing things like this. It’s unfathomable.”

To her, the plaudits were a “big red flag to me that things aren’t changing.”

The scandal over Shaw – the former head trainer – blew up two years ago after swim coach Sage Hopkins spent years trying to warn administrators that Shaw was a threat to student-athletes. The Justice Department issued a scathing report last year, saying the school failed for more than a decade to properly handle accusations against Shaw made by more than a dozen female swimmers as far back as 2009, which led to more victims. Tuite and university President Mary Papazian resigned in its wake.

The federal agency required the university to pay a total of $1.6 million to victims, overhaul its Title IX office, and reach out to more than 1,000 other former athletes who had been treated by him.

LeClair was one of them and sent an explosive email to the university in January outlining her complaints against both the head trainer and her former gymnastics coach and the devastating impact on her mental health.

She said her experience at San Jose State was so traumatizing that she ended up hospitalized with severe depression.

“I’m like, what more can the university literally do to me at this point, so I might as well just come out with everything,” said LeClair, who is now 28. “I just realized that they can’t hurt me any more.”

During her years as an athlete, she said she was belittled and called stupid almost daily.

“You just don’t even trust yourself at all,” LeClair said. “So when a treatment feels uncomfortable, you’re thinking, well, maybe that’s just me. Maybe I am being stupid. I didn’t trust my own suffering. I thought that my suffering was my fault.”

Amy LeClair, 28, a former San Jose State University gymnast shown at her home in Orange County on Thursday, April 28, 2022 has come forward with sexual assault accusations against former athletic trainer Scott Shaw.  (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Amy LeClair, 28, said she was belittled and called stupid almost daily during her time as a San Jose State gymnast. “I didn’t trust my own suffering,” she said. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Shaw, who voluntarily resigned in 2020, has denied the allegations of sexual abuse by numerous former athletes and pleaded not guilty to six federal civil rights charges. A trial is scheduled for next June.

Wright, the gymnastics coach, did not address LeClair’s accusations of intimidation directly when asked for comment by this news organization. Instead, in a text message, he said he had spent more than two decades at the university “with a very fulfilling career with Student-Athletes in the classroom and gym. I appreciated all the athletes that have come through the program during that time and wish them nothing but the best.”

In 2018, he denied to university investigators allegations of abusive behavior made by other gymnasts. But those investigators questioned Wright’s “credibility and truthfulness,” according to the report’s findings, and found the “number of corroborating accounts of Wright’s behavior unsettling and disturbing.”

More than 30 witnesses were interviewed by university investigators, including 25 former and current gymnasts dating back to 2005, according to the resulting report acquired by LeClair through a Public Records Act request and shared with this news organization. The university said it provided the report to media outlets in 2018, but coaches and administrators interviewed by the Bay Area News Group were unaware of its existence and this news organization is still waiting to receive a copy it requested from the university in June.

The report concluded that the gymnasts were credible and that Wright created an “environment of fear, intimidation and lack of respect.”

The report outlines a pattern of Wright discouraging his team members from reporting injuries, pitting teammates against each other and making them fear upsetting him. Wright used the terms “‘slut’ or ‘whore’ toward his student athletes,” the report said, and “utilized body-shaming as a method of applying control over the team members.”

“In all,” the report said, “the witness statements confirm a coaching style of verbal abuse and intimidation.”

LeClair ultimately declined to be interviewed for that investigation – she says the university denied her request to have her father present. But her allegations to this news organization and in her January email to the school’s new Title IX investigator Skip Bishop largely mirror those referenced in the 2018 report. In a follow-up email to LeClair, Bishop said she had the right to pursue a civil lawsuit “for your experiences with Scott Shaw and Wayne Wright.”

Instead, LeClair reached a settlement last month over her accusations against Shaw for what the university said was “an amount consistent with other student-athletes.” A recent settlement involving 15 other athletes split $3.3 million, each receiving $220,000.

One of those 15 athletes is a former gymnast who graduated in 2019 and told this news organization in an interview that she complained about Wright’s behavior in a number of handwritten evaluations to the athletics department, but never heard anything back. She also knew nothing about the 2018 investigation.

She said she felt disgusted when she read Tuite’s glowing announcement of Wright’s retirement. “I cried,” said the woman, 25, who asked to remain anonymous because she still fears the former coach.

When the university announced the latest settlement over claims against Shaw last month, it said that “SJSU strives to address allegations of sexual misconduct compassionately, respectfully, and seriously.” It did not identify LeClair or disclose her allegations of bullying and intimidation by Wright.

In a response to questions from this news organization, the school did acknowledge the 2018 report about Wright’s conduct and that Wright, 53 at the time, “separated from the university” less than two months after it was completed.

But it didn’t explain why Tuite, the athletic director at the time, announced Wright’s retirement in a news release by saying, “we want to congratulate Wayne for his teams’ accomplishments” and “we wish Wayne all the best in his future endeavors .”

“Marie Tuite is no longer with the university,” the school said.

For LeClair, that upbeat send-off was the kind of cover-up that shows the university’s deep-seated problems with accountability. And still, she said, it appears San Jose State hasn’t learned its lesson.

A school spokesperson acknowledged that the social media post thanking Wright for his contribution to Spartans gymnastics was a mistake and removed it.

The university at first said it was unaware of Wright’s fundraising efforts on its behalf, but later said it is addressing the matter “both internally and externally and will take appropriate action.” The university pointed out that as part of Wright’s separation agreement, he “agreed not to seek or accept employment, or volunteer at SJSU, or any of its affiliated auxiliary organizations.”

The university also explained why the report wasn’t widely circulated when it was first completed in 2018. “It is not common practice for a university to post employment- or student-related investigation reports,” and that doing so “would cause a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to come forward.” None of the student-athletes or staff were named in the report.

LeClair’s lawyer, Jemma E. Dunn from the Greenberg Gross law firm in Costa Mesa, said that Wright essentially trained LeClair and the other gymnasts to question their own judgment.

“So when these girls went in and were treated by Scott Shaw, they had no ability to question themselves and say, ‘Well, that didn’t seem right. Maybe I should go report it,’” Dunn said. “At this point, they can’t think for themselves and that’s the environment that was created, not only by Wayne but perpetrated by the school itself and that’s why Scott Shaw was allowed to get away with it. It’s a parallel story.”

Shaw’s next court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8 before US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman.

LeClair and her lawyer said she has been interviewed by the FBI, but her allegation is not included in the charges against Shaw, because it happened before the statute of limitations expired.

LeClair is now married with two children and works in property management in Orange County. She said she doesn’t want other young women to go through what she did.

As part of her legal settlement with the school, LeClair said she will personally address a newly created SJSU advisory board intended to protect students from abuse and the kind of culture that fosters it.

“My hope is that I can be someone who can help other people realize that this isn’t how things should be,” she said. “This isn’t how you should be treated. This isn’t how you should feel about yourself.”

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