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Email shows UH officials knew about rhabdo incidents in January

HOUSTON – "No one was going to say anything, everyone was so scared."

They remained silent in fear of what would happen if they spoke up. That's what University of Houston women's soccer team players said happened after a grueling punishment workout in February 2018.

Now, university administrators are keeping quiet, refusing to talk about multiple incidents in which players were diagnosed with a potentially deadly condition known as rhabdo.

In a statement Wednesday, UH said a KPRC2 report "brought to light specific details of an event involving the UH women's soccer program that were previously unknown to the University."

The problem?

An email from Jan. 28 shows that senior leaders at the university were made aware of a punishment session that the women's soccer team went through.

READ: Emails from UH athletic department show previous rhabdo cases, 'physical punishment'

Records show that Athletic Director Chris Pezman and UH President Renu Khator received the email within days of each other.

Also, in April, KPRC2 Investigates reported on physical punishment within the women's soccer program, yet the school says they are only now conducting an investigative review because they were unaware of specific details of the session.

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

Throughout months of the KPRC2 investigation, head coach Diego Bocanegra, Pezman and Khator refused to sit down for an interview about the punishment session.

No explanation

An explanation has been hard to come by.

In addition to silence from university leaders, UH has gone to great lengths to keep information about the punishment workouts out of public view.

April emails

In April, Channel 2 Investigates received a series of emails, which were requested under the state's public information act. Emails were missing and the request was incomplete.

READ: UH women’s soccer player: Team was forced to endure punishment workout that led to rhabdo

In late May, after an attorney for KPRC2 called UH out, 11 missing emails were received. The university claimed that the omission was "inadvertent."

Many portions of the email conversations between Bocanegra, senior leadership in the Athletic Department and parents were heavily redacted. Also, emails involving senior leadership concerning punishment workouts are missing entire sections.

READ: 5 things UH soccer player said about ‘punishment workout’

UH claims the information is private under state law and asked the Texas Attorney General to keep it secret.

Senator speaks out

"That was pretty horrifying," Sen. Paul Bettencourt said about the lack of transparency.

Bettencourt has legislative oversight over Texas universities as a member of the Senate Committee on Higher Education in Austin.

READ: 5 questions about rhabdomyolysis

"You can't have this type of behavior occur and then not have an explanation for it. The university owes the students and their families, and quite frankly the public, an explanation," Bettencourt said. "Unfortunately, this is an epidemic that goes on with Houston institutions, the city, county. I'm sad to see UH is following it with every open records request ... being kicked to the AG for stalling purposes, in my opinion.

"This is not what I expect of a Tier 1 university that has made a lot of strides to get to that status and now they won't respond on an issue that really is a health and safety issue to kids in a soccer program. I am calling on them to do the right thing and tell the public what really happened."

Attorney offers opinion

Brian Panish, a Los Angeles attorney has represented families where collegiate athletes were hospitalized following workouts. Panish said in late May what Khator should have done.

READ: UH announces internal review following KPRC2 report on punishment workout

"I think she should have immediately conducted an independent investigation brought some outside people in," Panish said.

What parents are saying

  • "It's a slap in the face, because we find it hard to believe that they didn't know the rhabdo was a result of physical punishment." - Parent
  • "It's got to be made aware of, it's sad that UH is not addressing it publicly." - Parent
  • "Highly disappointed that they are not talking. They should have come clean after the first report." - Parent

Here's a look at recent rhabdo cases at NCAA schools:

 

 

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