A former student of the University of California has levelled some disturbing allegations at the school’s football coaches and players.
Paige Elizabeth Cornelius has accused unidentified coaches and players of “ruthless, endless and persistent” sexual harassment in a lengthy Facebook post published on Wednesday.
Ms Cornelius, who worked in the football team’s sports medicine unit in 2018, says one coach told her: “If you do not have sex with me, I will get you fired.”
“Maybe because I am a new face in the sports medicine squad, but maybe for other reasons, I was being stared at up and down, by coaches and (players) alike,” she says about her first day with the team.
After just one practice session, Cornelius says her Instagram started to “blow up” with “creepy messages.”
She says the treatment by one coach “truly kept me up at night.”
“He would stare at me, wink, and ask me to guess what he wanted,” she wrote.
“He would grab my arm and look at me with knowing eyes, and I would get so scared I would toss a bottle at him and run away.
“To no surprise, he found me on Instagram, and starting messaging me, for which I then blocked him.
“One day after practice, I realised he was following me home, as he was supposed to be going in the opposite direction, but was keeping a close pace behind me before he caught up to me outside my front door.”
She says another coach invited her to the stadium offices at midnight.
“I was under the influence, and not legally in a state of mind to be consenting to sex,” Cornelius wrote.
“He snuck me into his office, I put my backpack and binder down, and he immediately grabbed for my waist.
“I was terrified, my mind was fuzzy, and I do not remember much from that night. He kept kissing me, pushing me against the wall, and I left.”
The next day, Cornelius says the coach told her: “If you do not have sex with me, I will get you fired.”
Cornelius, who has since left the school, went on to say the players weren’t much different, and alleged she was passed over for a promotion because ‘she would be a distraction in the training room.’
“I have never felt more objectified in my life, and I still have nightmares,” she says.
‘Against our core values’
The school’s athletic department has responded to the claims, stating Cornelius’ allegations have been referred to its Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.
“We are aware of the very disturbing public allegations made on social media,” a Cal Athletics statement read, according to the New York Post.
“These allegations go against the very core of our values. Cal Athletics is and will always be committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected.
“While we can discuss our process for handling these matters, we generally cannot address any specific case.
“Allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment by campus employees are confidential unless officials determine policy is violated, and disciplinary action has been decided.”
Athletic director Jim Knowlton reportedly addressed the accusations in a letter sent to ticket holders and donors.
“Let me be absolutely clear: we will lend our full moral and operational support to the campus inquiry into these allegations,” the letter read.
“We will support the imposition of appropriate consequences as required by the outcome of that inquiry. We believe in a culture that fosters dignity and respect.”
Cornelius has since told ESPN that she emailed team officials last year, and has now gone public with the allegations because of the lack of response.
A source also reportedly told ESPN that the coach who allegedly threatened to fire Cornelius if she didn’t have sex with him doesn’t work there anymore.