Former members of Penn State University’s women’s NCAA gymnastics team have opened up about the alleged emotional abuse they suffered under coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson.
Speaking to People, two former gymnasts detailed the body-shaming they encountered, including allegedly being told by one of the two coaches, “you guys look like you ate your way” through a four-day break from school. The athletes also say that they were pressured to keep practicing when they were injured.
The story first came to light in April by Penn State’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. However, an investigation by the university’s Office of Ethics & Compliance, which was conducted in December and January before the article came out, found no evidence of abuse.
Shealyn Farley, now 21, had suffered an ACL tear and meniscus tears in her left knee that required six surgeries as a teen. She told People that Jeff Thompson “sold” her on Penn State by promising to make her knee a priority.
However, after undergoing additional surgery on her knee during her freshman year, she said she noticed Rachelle making “snarky” comments about her. And, while she was healing, t
he coaches forced her to train for hours, she told People.
“I was in pain, I was telling them I was in pain, and they were still making me do it,” Farley said.
Farley said the coaches would routinely criticise the athletes about their bodies, as well. One of the girls was even forced to come into the gym early every morning to run several miles because “Rachelle would always tell her she looked like a whale,” Farley said.
Farley said she eventually chose to leave the team after the Thompsons’ alleged harassment left her feeling suicidal.
Another gymnast, Kristin Blades, told People that the coaches were uncomfortably involved with her personal life — discouraging her from being friends with certain teammates and encouraging her to break up with her boyfriend.
Like Farley, Blades suffered an elbow injury that also required surgery. “They were pretty pissed about that,” Blades said.
A May 19 email obtained by People said that Rachelle Thompson plans to resign at the end of June, though her husband Jeff will remain the head coach of the team.
In a statement to People, a spokesperson for Penn State’s athletic department said, “The Athletics Department reviewed the report and noted that while that some student athletes reported behaviours they found personally objectionable no instances of abuse were identified.”
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