USF President Says School Didn't Tolerate Coaches' Alleged Sexual Misconduct. Players' Attorney Says That's Exactly What It Did

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Former USF men's baseball head coach Nino Giarratano, pictured in 2011, was fired on Sunday following a class-action lawsuit alleging that he and another coach perpetuated an 'intolerable sexualized environment.' (Shawn Calhoun via Creative Commons/Flickr)

The University of San Francisco's highly ranked men's basketball team will play in the NCAA "March Madness" playoffs this month for the first time since 1998. But campus jubilation at the Dons' success on the court is tempered this week by an emerging scandal involving the men's baseball team.

In January, associate baseball coach Troy Nakamura was fired after complaints of wildly inappropriate and sexually graphic language and behavior. Head coach Nino Giarratano was initially reprimanded but allowed to remain. But he, too, was fired on Sunday, following a lawsuit filed against Nakamura, Giarratano, USF and the NCAA.

In the 113-page class-action lawsuit filed on Friday in a federal court in San Francisco, three former baseball players allege that USF knew about the coaches' alleged problematic behavior, and that USF and the NCAA failed to protect the health and safety of student athletes who they say were exposed to an "intolerable sexualized environment" that was allowed to continue under Giarratano, who has been at USF for over 20 years.

According to the complaint, the coaches "created a culture where, in the light of the day, it was 'normal' to see Coach [Nakamura] naked on the field or in a window, swinging his penis in a helicopter fashion while the entire team — and Coach [Giarratano] — watched." According to reporting from The San Francisco Chronicle, Nakamura was seen mingling with coaches at a practice last week, nearly two months after he was fired.

In an interview with KQED, USF President Rev. Paul Fitzgerald said at this point the school is focused on helping players cope with the situation.

"Our first concern right now is for the current members of the team," Fitzgerald said. "So we're prioritizing their access to mental health counseling and speaking directly to their parents. Their parents are concerned about their sons and their overall well-being, as are we."

Fitzgerald dismissed the notion that Giarratano's firing was prompted by the filing of the class-action lawsuit, and instead pinned it on letting Nakamura attend practice last week.

"The class-action lawsuit was not the reason why we terminated the head coach," Fitzgerald said. "We terminated the head coach because he allowed the former assistant coach [Nakamura] back onto the field. And our former assistant coach had no business being on the field with our athletes, with our coaches."

But Elizabeth Fegan, one of the attorneys representing the three former baseball players, isn't buying that.

“I find it particularly galling that President Fitzgerald is trying to overlook the larger issues of abuse of student-athletes on his watch in recasting why he fired Coach Giarratano," she said in a statement to KQED.

"This is nothing more than debate intended to shirk responsibility – I would think he should be more concerned about being transparent about what happened to allow the coaches’ abhorrent behavior to grow and fester within the baseball program."

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USF student Julia Morales, a junior biology major who participates on the track team, told KQED she and her fellow students wonder why it took the school so long to act after receiving complaints about the atmosphere around the baseball team.

"I think the most surprising thing to us was that it took so long for something to happen, or for any information to be put out there," she said.

"And now that an article has been published and people are finding out that all of this has happened," Morales said, referencing the Chronicle's reporting, "and it took, what ... months later for someone to actually be fired like the head coach and not just be reprimanded? It was concerning that it took this much time and effort to make something happen."

When told of Morales's concerns, Fitzgerald said, "I'm proud of that student for her moral outrage at the mistreatment of any student by a coach at USF or at any school. So I think her heart and her mind are in exactly the right place."

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USF President Rev. Paul Fitzgerald (Courtesy USF)

According to the lawsuit, the mother of one of the baseball players sent an email to, and left numerous voicemails for, USF's athletic director in May 2021, saying "that she was concerned 'with the culture of the baseball program,' 'the constant bullying, harassment, and intimidation' of her son, and the 'sexual misconduct by coach [Nakamura].'" Those phone calls and emails, she said, were never returned, and the player believed the athletic director simply shared his mother's complaint with the coaches, "because the abuse escalated and continued throughout the summer of 2021," the lawsuit says.

Fitzgerald, however, denied that the school tried to downplay or tolerate the alleged behavior.

"We're not going to sweep things under the rug once any bad behavior becomes known," Fitzgerald said. "You know, we act on it. We act decisively ... to maintain and improve the culture of every one of our sports programs."

But that's what the school did, counters attorney Fegan.

"It is apparent to anyone who looked at this issue that, for whatever reason, the school ignored the pleas of parents about Coach Giarratano’s program. Willful ignorance will not carry much weight when it comes to trial,” she said.

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Asked whether he was reflecting on whether USF might have handled allegations against the baseball coaches better, Fitzgerald said, "We always want to learn from unfortunate incidences. You know, our primary task is prevention. So a lot of trainings, a lot of education. We recently hired a second Title IX officer, and her primary responsibility is training within the athletic department. And we want all of our student athletes to know that they're in a safe environment."

Fitzgerald said he wants students to feel empowered to report troubling or inappropriate behavior.

"And we have multiple venues, multiple avenues, including [an] anonymous whistleblower hotline for anyone to make a complaint. And that's the most important thing that anyone can do is to raise a concern. And then we'll be very consequent in our investigation and in a follow-up," he said.

This is not the first time USF sports have been enveloped in sex-related allegations. As Sports Illustrated reported in a comprehensive article just five months ago, several players on the USF men's soccer team were accused of sexual misconduct, including rape of a female student. A public outcry prompted USF to investigate the allegations, but critics said the school tolerated the behavior for too long.

KQED's David Marks contributed to this story.

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