Months after KPRC 2 exposes physical punishment within UH women's soccer, President Khator speaks

KPRC 2 Investigates first exposed the use of physical punishment within the University of Houston women’s soccer program this past April.

HOUSTON – KPRC 2 Investigates first exposed the use of physical punishment within the University of Houston women’s soccer program this past April.

In June, players spoke to KPRC 2 Investigates in the shadows out of fear of retaliation by the school and the program.

KPRC 2 Investigates brought their facts into the light, and university leadership went into hiding. However, after two investigations were launched following our reports, University President Renu Khator is now opening up.

"I have two daughters, and they played sports in high school, and if something like that would have happened with them, I would be furious,” Khator said during a recent Board of Regents meeting.

A punishing workout from February 2018 sent one player to the hospital for five days, diagnosed with the potentially deadly medical condition rhabdomyolysis. Initially, the university denied requests for interviews with women's soccer coach Diego Bocanegra, Athletic Director Chris Pezman and Khator.

One player told Channel 2 Investigates, "I'm ashamed of the fact that she won't speak."

However, at last month's Board of Regents meeting, Khator finally opened up, telling KPRC 2 Investigates: "I can guarantee you whatever comes out there -- and your questioning has helped us, obviously -- whatever comes out there, action will be swift.”

What we do know is that following our June 11 report, the University of Houston Police Department launched a hazing investigation after we revealed the punishment workout appeared to have violated the school's hazing policy. The findings of that criminal investigation are now in the hands of the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

On June 20, Tilman Fertitta, the chairman of the university's Board of Regents, announced a separate internal investigation by the board's Audit Department.

When KPRC 2 Investigates asked Khator how something like this happened under her watch, Khator said, "I'm a mother, as well. I totally understand why people are asking that question.”

KPRC 2 Investigates pointed out punishment was listed in the team’s handbook. Khator immediately said, "I am furious because I have two daughters. They play, and this kind of thing, it was shocking to me, too."

Months before KPRC 2’s investigation, Khator was made aware of the punishment workout in a lengthy email sent by a parent Jan. 29. The email is filled with numerous details surrounding the February 2018 workout. It also describes the player's hospital stay. Khator did not respond. Instead, she forwarded the email without comment to Athletic Director Chris Pezman and the school's general counsel Donna Cornell.

One player informed KPRC 2 Investigates in June she felt “tortured almost” following the workout.

Although Khator received and forwarded all the details of the February 2018 punishment workout in January, a university spokesman maintains, "We did not have the allegations to support hazing before your June report."

Khator also admitted she never spoke to the player who was hospitalized.

"I can tell you I continuously kept up what their condition, what their situation was, but once the investigations are on, whether internal or external, I wasn't going to reach out personally," she said.

As for Bocanegra? He remains on the sidelines. The Lady Coogs kicked off their season a few weeks ago.

What is on deck regarding the investigations?

The Board of Regents Audit Department plans to complete its investigation by Oct. 1. Khator is set to be interviewed, along with coaches. Blueprints also include interviewing the player and her parents, according to one official.

Meanwhile, the Harris County DA’s Office won’t comment on the criminal investigation.

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Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.