San Jose State University’s longtime sports medicine director, who resigned in August amid reports he sexually abused female athletes more than a decade ago, has been found responsible for at least five of those women’s claims in a series of state Title IX investigations.
The investigations, conducted by private attorneys under the supervision of the California State University System, determined that Scott Shaw’s physical therapy treatments lacked medical basis, ignored proper protocols and violated the system’s sexual harassment policies.
The findings were issued Friday morning in separate letters to the women. There were at least 10 investigations in all – one for each complainant – all of which might have come to different conclusions. Shounak Dharap, an attorney who represents some of the athletes, told USA TODAY on Friday he was aware of at least five that have resulted in findings of responsibility, adding that he expected to receive more.
Several of the athletes FaceTimed each other after receiving the news.
“There was an overwhelming sense of relief,” said former swimmer Linzy Warkentin, one of the five athletes, who first reported Shaw’s conduct to the school in 2009. “We had tears and laughs. Tonight there will be celebratory drinks. We have been waiting for this for over a year and finally, we are officially acknowledged.”
In April, USA TODAY reported on the allegations against Shaw for the first time publicly. Reporters interviewed four of the 17 swimming and diving athletes who in 2009 said Shaw touched them inappropriately, as well as a water polo athlete and a gymnastics athlete who competed around that time and described similar touching by Shaw.
The university had reviewed the swimmers’ claims in 2010 but cleared Shaw of wrongdoing, saying that his treatments – which he’d described to the athletes as “pressure point” or “trigger point” therapy – constituted a scientific and accepted method of treatment for muscle injuries.
Shaw was never disciplined, arrested or charged, and he remained in his position as sports medicine director for the next 10 years, during which time he continued to treat female athletes.
The CSU System began its investigation in December 2019, after SJSU women’s swim coach Sage Hopkins re-reported the allegations.
In addition to interviewing many of the former athletes, state investigators heard testimony from two current Spartans who described inappropriate touching by Shaw.
One of the current athletes told investigators that Shaw in 2017 massaged her breasts, without explanation, under the guise of “pressure point therapy.” Another said Shaw grazed her breast and placed his hands on her buttocks on separate occasions in late 2019 and early 2020. Both said Shaw’s treatments were unlike any they’d received from other SJSU athletic trainers. Their allegations are similar to those made by the swimmers a decade ago.
Shaw came to San Jose State in 2006 and took over as its director of sports medicine in 2008, a position he held until his departure in August. In April, San Jose State told USA TODAY that it had received no new complaints against Shaw since 2009.
The current athletes’ testimony shows that Shaw’s inappropriate treatments continued well after the university’s internal 2010 investigation.
In a statement to USA TODAY, San Jose State spokesperson Christine Hutchins said the university will review the findings, which she said are not yet final until the appeals process has concluded. In the meantime, she said, the university is contacting those who were involved in the investigation to provide supportive services and help them obtain resources.
SJSU President Mary “Papazian and the university remain steadfast in their commitment to providing a safe, learning environment that is dedicated to the success of its students and will continue to take appropriate and necessary steps,” Hutchins said in the statement.
Shaw declined to participate in the CSU investigation, records show. He previously denied any wrongdoing through his attorney, Lori Costanzo, who did not respond to an email seeking comment. Shaw has 10 working days to appeal the outcome.
James Borchers, a physician and president of the U.S. Council for Athlete’s Health who served as an expert witness in the investigation, determined Shaw’s treatments were “improper” and “questionable in the most conservative manner,” according to a copy of the preliminary findings report from November obtained by USA TODAY. Borchers added that they “raise a significant suspicion for inappropriate behavior.”
According to Borchers’ testimony, Shaw disregarded normal procedures by failing to explain, justify, properly document and obtain informed consent for his treatments, which he performed without offering a chaperone and without proper oversight, certification and training. Additionally, Borchers said massaging the breast and groin area is generally inappropriate absent clear medical circumstances necessitating such contact, and it is “not ethical to reach under clothing in a sensitive area in any situation.”
“In conclusion, there is no reasonable evidence or explanation for the actions of the athletic trainer described in this report,” Borchers wrote in a four-page analysis. “The treatments, behavior of the athletic trainer and consistent pattern associated with both as described by the student-athletes are at the very least unethical and disturbing.”
Coach never gave up
For many of the athletes, the ruling is more than a decade overdue.
Seventeen athletes reported Shaw’s conduct to their coach in late 2009, records show, when they were members of San Jose State’s women’s swimming and diving team and Shaw was the team’s primary trainer.
Records obtained by USA TODAY show their coach, Hopkins, gathered 17 swimmers’ accounts of inappropriate touching and reported them to officials in San Jose State’s athletic department, broader administration and campus police.
One of the former swimmers who testified against Shaw was a minor – 17 years old – at the time she said Shaw first touched her inappropriately in 2009. Hopkins later filed a report for alleged child abuse by Shaw, but no action appears to have been taken in response.
Despite the university’s clearing Shaw of wrongdoing, Hopkins never stopped voicing his concerns. He routinely complained to campus officials and tried to keep his athletes away from Shaw, who still sometimes treated them without Hopkins’ knowledge, records show.
SJSU reopened a second investigation into Shaw in December 2019, after Hopkins circulated a nearly 300-page document among university, Mountain West and NCAA officials that detailed the allegations, the school’s response, and his claims of retaliation against him and his team for reporting and re-reporting them.
That Shaw has finally been held responsible is a “a good step in the right direction,” said Caitlin Macky, one of the former swimmers who reported Shaw in 2009, while noting that there had been “far too many casualties along the way.”
“I’m so thankful for Sage Hopkins and the perseverance he showed in advocating for all student-athletes, not just his own,” Macky told USA TODAY. “And it is my opinion that he deserves an immediate apology from the university.”
Fallout and more investigations
In August, Shaw wrote in an email to members of the athletic department, which USA TODAY obtained, saying that he was retiring and planning to leave the school later that month. San Jose State quietly removed his name from the staff directory, and in response to questions from USA TODAY said Shaw had resigned.
A month later, a former top athletic department official filed a tort claim notice with the CSU System alleging that athletic department administrators engaged in a pattern of covering up misconduct by SJSU staff and students and retaliating against those who reported it.
Steve O’Brien, who served as the No. 2 in the athletic department, said in the claim that he was fired in March because he resisted orders from athletic director Marie Tuite to discipline Hopkins and one other employee. O’Brien believed the orders against Hopkins constituted retaliation for his re-reporting of the allegations, which prompted the investigation into Shaw to be reopened. Hopkins also accused Tuite of downplaying and helping cover up the allegations over the years.
Last month, a separate investigation by the CSU System found Tuite responsible for retaliating against Hopkins by directing his supervisor to give him a low rating on his 2020 performance review because of his reporting the allegations to outside entities, according to a copy of the investigation notice issued by the CSU System on Jan. 15 and obtained by USA TODAY.
Tuite has the opportunity to appeal the finding. She did not return a phone message Friday seeking comment.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division also is investigating the university’s handling of the allegations in 2010, four people who have spoken with the investigators told USA TODAY. The people described the topics they discussed under the condition of anonymity out of concern for jeopardizing an ongoing legal matter. Sportico first reported on the existence of the investigation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation also launched a criminal probe into Shaw’s conduct, two people who have spoken with investigators confirmed. They spoke to USA TODAY anonymously for the same reasons. The FBI’s press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.