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DOJ investigation finds deceased UMBC swimming and diving coach abused students on team

Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The U.S. Department of Justice revealed Monday that a former head coach of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s swimming and diving team, Chad Cradock, who died in 2021, sexually and verbally abused members of the team for about five years.

A letter Monday from the Justice Department to UMBC President Valerie Sheares Ashby said Cradock sexually abused members of the men’s team starting in 2015.

According to the letter, the head coach would kiss male team members on their necks, hug them from behind, and trace his fingers down their bare stomachs “from their belly buttons toward their genitals.” Cradock would entertain students in his home and allegedly engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior there.

Under Cradock’s tenure from 2016 to 2020, members of the women’s team were harassed, stalked and subjected to “dating violence” by their male teammates, the DOJ alleges.

Instead of immediately reporting the harassment of the women’s team members to the school’s Title IX Office, according to the letter, Cradock chose to “retain control over the situation and the students involved for as long as possible.”

A major conclusion of the Justice Department’s investigation, which began in November 2020: Some senior UMBC administrators and members of the athletic department knew about Cradock’s behavior but did nothing about it.

“Our investigation revealed an enduring hostile environment based on sex in the Athletics Department that affected many student-athletes, both male and female,” according to the letter, signed by Shaheen A. Simons, chief of the Education Opportunities Section in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “These students’ experiences revealed profound systemwide problems in the University’s response to allegations of sex discrimination that persisted for years.”

Sheares Ashby, who began as UMBC president in August 2022, released a video statement about the DOJ report Monday afternoon on the school’s YouTube page

“It revealed not only despicable actions by one individual, but profound failures in the university’s response during [2015 to 2020]. As the DOJ said in its report, these students deserved better,” she said. “Let me be very clear: we take full responsibility for what happened, and I am committed to addressing their failures through our words and through actions.”

She continued: “I am also committed to the monumental task of rebuilding our community’s trust. I encourage all of you to read the report, if you are able. It is difficult to take in, but it is important to understand and acknowledge the fullness of what happened so that we can start the process of healing and change the culture so that this never happens again.”

Sheares Ashby said an agreement with the DOJ will be signed and shared publicly “in the coming days” that will outline how the university responds to sexual misconduct and discrimination.

“This work is already underway,” she said. Early first steps by the university include mandatory Title IX training for students and reviews of Title IX policies and procedures on campus.

Title IX is federal law passed in 1972 that combats discrimination based on sex among students and employees in education programs and activities.

Sheares Ashby also apologized to the affected students and said “this community owes you a debt of gratitude.”

According to an obituary, Cradock died on March 7, 2021, three days before he would have turned 47 years old. No cause of death was given.

He was born in Ontario, Canada, and graduated from high school in that country. He attended UMBC on a scholarship as a long-distance freestyle swimmer.

According to the obituary, he graduated from UMBC in 1997 and remained at the university with the school’s Retriever Aquatic Club and as an assistant swimming and diving coach. He was appointed head coach in 2001 and remained in that position for 19 years. He was just the second swimming and diving head coach in the school’s history.

“Because of these relationships and his visibility, his image became synonymous with the University itself: he earned the nickname, “Mr. UMBC,” the DOJ noted in its report.

SwimSwam, a website that covers competitive swimming, reported in December 2020 that Craddock was abruptly removed from his position as swimming coach, without explanation.

‘Favorites’ on the team

According to the DOJ, Cradock would conduct daily voyeurism when student-athletes entered their freshmen year and would continue the abuse for years while they were on the team.

Both the men and women on the team told investigators the head coach flaunted his relationship “with the highest ranks of senior administration,” who are unnamed in the letter.

“Student athletes took these close relationships with university leadership as a warning: if you rebuked the head coach’s advances or reported his behavior, no one would believe you, and he could ruin your life at the university,” according to the DOJ.

One example of control took place when an athletic department staff member received a letter on June 29, 2015, from unidentified students who saw a coach or staff member remove a camera from a locker that had a direct view into the men’s showers.

A senior administrator knew about the letter and another “tipped off” the head coach that university police planned to search his locker. The DOJ stated those officials didn’t disclose those allegations to the school’s Title IX Office and assured that office “they had no knowledge of any allegations concerning” Cradock.

Meanwhile, the head coach had male “favorites” on the swimming and diving team, who he took for haircuts, off-campus meals and other informal gatherings. Some of them stayed at his house during holiday breaks.

The sexual advances came with additional coaching, competitive opportunities and “more leniency for rule violations.” A rejection could mean the risk of losing a scholarship, housing, the “swim family” and other consequences.

Cradock also helped secure mental health services for the male team members but not the women. According to the DOJ, the male athletes and male staff berated the women at practice and said they were either “bulking up” too much or “too fat” to be Division I athletes.

In the fall of 2020, teammates overheard a male team member physically assaulting a female teammate in his off-campus apartments. They brought the incident to Cradock first and were told not to report what happened to the Title IX Office.

“Instead, he required the female student-athlete to return to practice alongside her abuser, with bruises and other physical evidence of the violent assault,” the DOJ letter stated. “This sent a terrifying but galvanizing message to the other female student-athletes on the team. As one student stated, ‘it became clear he would rather let a woman die than report up one of his favorites.’”

Remedies to stop abuse

 The University System of Maryland released a statement and addendum Monday afternoon to acknowledge how officials with UMBC, a member of the system, have cooperated with the Justice Department and worked to improve its Title IX operations over the last 18 months.

Title IX coordinators within the University System of Maryland convene to review relevant laws, regulations, standards and practices. The system’s Office of Internal Audit examines Title IX operations at universities to identify areas of improvement and follow up on audit findings.

The system’s Office of Academic and Student Affairs monitors reporting of open federal investigations and reviews a state-level report submitted biannually to the state Higher Education Commission to assess campus climate and sexual misconduct.

Two working groups, convened by the USM Board of Regents, will begin work soon to ensure rigorous Title IX compliance.

One group, according to the system addendum, would engage external experts to advise the board and university leaders on best-in-class practices governing Title IX education and management, policies and procedures to guide reporting, investigation and adjudication and how to best education students about Title IX and train staff in compliance.

The DOJ report was released while UMBC is on its spring break, which runs through March 24. Students or staff members who may have experienced any form of abuse can contact the school’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights by email at [email protected], or by calling 410-455-1717.

This breaking news story has been updated.


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DOJ investigation finds deceased UMBC swimming and diving coach abused students on team