Before rash of rhabdo at UH, 'fitness punishment' was listed in women's soccer handbook

HOUSTON – "Unbelievable,” was the reaction to what Channel 2 Investigates uncovered by one collegiate official.

Thursday night’s report detailed coaches and trainers for the University of Houston's Women's soccer program who had options to use physical punishment on players in recent years.

Coach Diego Bocanegra's program over the past year has been plagued with cases of rhabdomyolysis -- a dangerous and at times deadly condition -- that can result from intense workouts that cross the line.

"There is certain thresholds you can go to, there is a difference between 'no pain, no gain' and torture -- and rhabdo usually comes from going way, way, way over the top and borderline torture,” said Dr. David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former assistant athletic director of compliance at Marshall University.

In late January, approximately a dozen players were sent to the hospital. Video from one of the workouts in question was posted by Bocanegra on social media. The University of Houston provided emails to Channel 2 Investigates after a formal records request. One particular email shows that just two months prior to the late January workout in question, Bocanegra wrote to a player's mother: "I want to reiterate that I have implemented several changes to help prevent this injury or any other similar injuries from happening in the future. For example, we no longer use physical punishment within our team. I removed it from our weight room manual.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director Dejuena Chizer raised no red flags, signing off on the email by telling Bocanegra: "Diego, This is good. Thanks."

Ridpath’s reaction? "I don't think I've ever seen punishments codified in any manual."

Channel 2 Investigates obtained a copy of the University of Houston Soccer Player Handbook for 2017. On page 33 it lists "Fitness Punishment" multiple times as a consequence within the program.

What does Bocanegra have to say? As we found out at a recent alumni event, he is not talking. However, Athletic Director Chris Pezman soon will be. Pezman is changing his stance after we reported that he was not talking. A University of Houston official tells Channel 2 Investigates that Pezman will be sitting down for an interview sometime next week.

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