TThe Civil Rights Office of the Federal Ministry of Education has received multiple complaints about possible violations of Title IX by the University of Toledo, according to a person familiar with the case. The complaints followed a Guardian investigation into allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and emotional abuse by a former coach of the university’s football program.
The Office for Civil Rights said it has not commented on specific cases, but it appears – based on internal OCR emails obtained by the Guardian – that an area of interest is how the University’s Title IX office van Toledo failed to adequately address allegations against former women’s soccer coach Brad Evans when it was informed of an alleged assault of an assistant coach and emotional abuse of players.
The Guardian may also reveal that the United States Football Federation, the sport’s governing body in the US and the only governing body in the US recognized by FIFA, has no power to intervene in cases of abuse of colleges and high schools because it has no jurisdiction over the sports at that level.
The Toledo case has exposed a complex sports system in the United States that is riddled with loopholes that fail to protect athletes and young coaches from sexual harassment or abuse by those in authority. Instead of vulnerable athletes and young coaches who are protected, it is perpetrators and institutions that are shielded from responsibility.
Alleged bullies and abusers are often not held accountable and may take jobs elsewhere, even with serious accusations hanging over their heads, while a slow process of accountability unwinds or accusations are either mischaracterized or not fully investigated at all.
“Educational institutions that allow coaches to continue working and communicating with student-athletes after learning they have been accused of sexual abuse expose themselves to the risk that they have acted with willful indifference in violation of Title IX,” Christina Cheung , a partner of Gloria Allred in Allred’s law firm, Maroko & Goldberg, told the Guardian.
Cheung added: “‘Deliberate indifference’ is a fact-intensive question that varies from case to case and generally means that the educational institution has acted in a manner that is “clearly unreasonable in light of all known circumstances” and the educational institution’s actions were the ’cause of the students to be harassed or to make them accountable or vulnerable’”.
However, Cheung said a successful Title IX claim against an educational institution is difficult to achieve for sexual abuse survivors due to the high legal burden of proving willful indifference.
“Plaintiffs must demonstrate that their educational institution acted with willful indifference to known acts of sexual harassment (or) abuse that were sufficiently ‘serious, pervasive and objectively offensive that it deprived victims of access to educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school be offered,” Cheung added in an email to the Guardian.
Title IX is a multi-tiered federal law passed in 1972 that requires that “no one shall be barred from participating in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to, discrimination based on sex.” In 1988, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan vetoed an update to the law claiming that the legislation “greatly and unjustifiably extends the power of the federal government over the decisions and affairs of private organizations.” Congress ignored Reagan’s veto. The ultimate consequence of a Title IX violation may be federal funding for a university or college, but this consequence has never occurred in the history of the law.
“The ultimate consequence of a ruling is that a university loses funding, but that has never happened in the time that Title IX has been enacted,” said Becca Getson, director of legal services and advocacy at Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, an advocacy group for survivors of sexual violence. “No university has ever lost its federal funding. Usually there is an agreement that the university will change what it has done.”
The Ministry of Education has not responded to repeated requests to confirm this claim.
“Title IX is a federal law, and any law is only as good as the enforcement mechanism and policies used for it,” Getson said. “It really depends on how the institutions implement it, the policies and procedures and the training that comes from different laws. Filing a complaint is a long-term process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not months, it may be years. Filing a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau is like an appeals process against something that has happened or has not happened.”
While the United States Soccer Federation has no power to address alleged abuses in college and high school soccer, it does have jurisdiction over state federations and most youth club soccer. Under another US federal law, the Safe Sport Act of 2017, the USSF delegates allegations of abuse to the US Center for SafeSport.
University of Toledo coach Brad Evans (not to be confused with the former MLS player of the same name) was reported to SafeSport in 2019, but it wasn’t until 2022 – after the Guardian’s investigation into events at the University of Toledo – that Evans was added to SafeSport’s Central Disciplinary Database.
In addition to coaching college soccer, Evans was also a coaching instructor with the USSF through the Ohio Soccer Association. Following the Guardian report, the USSF canceled Evans’ licenses and put him down from his coaching instructor role. A SafeSport investigation into the allegations against Evans remains open.
“High school and college soccer programs are not affiliated with US Soccer or the Olympic movement and high schools and colleges are not affiliated with US Soccer;” a USSF spokesperson told the Guardian. “They are not required to follow US Soccer bylaws or policies.”
Under the Safe Sport Act, US Soccer is required to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the US Center for SafeSport. The Center has exclusive jurisdiction over all allegations of sexual misconduct. US Soccer is prohibited from investigating allegations.
The University of Toledo has previously said the institution has launched an investigation following a January 2015 report by a student-athlete of verbal harassment by Evans, who was the head coach of the women’s soccer team at the time.
When the Guardian contacted them about allegations against Evans, a university spokesperson said: “The investigation revealed that Mr Evans’ behavior towards student-athletes may have violated the University of Conduct’s policy, but the The case was not referred for possible disciplinary action because at the conclusion of the investigation in March 2015, Mr. Evans had already resigned his position on February 23, 2015.”
The university did not respond to questions about how the Title IX office responded to reports about Evans, including a 2020 report to the university about a previous alleged attack. According to a spokesman for the Civil Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Education, the University of Toledo is currently investigating a previous complaint of alleged violation of Title IX, in addition to the recent complaints. It is unknown what that ongoing investigation entails, but the other complaints relate to Evans.
At present, universities are not required to disclose why an employee has left an institution. The University of Toledo had received multiple charges against Evans – including sexual assault – but he resigned from his role, alleging to local media that his reason was due to an inappropriate relationship with a colleague. The university made no attempt to correct that story or explain why he was being investigated.
“We see coaches jumping from team to team across the spectrum,” said Caitlin Burke, OAESV’s Director of Prevention and Public Health. “We see this at the high school level as well and not just colleges or professional sports, which is a system-wide problem.
Burke adds: “You have to have policies that are effective, you have to have procedures that really work. There has to be a culture where the community has everyone on board to identify what is really causing this and not just take one person out of the system. Part of prevention is looking at those loopholes and how policies work or don’t work. Part of that is looking at the environment or the culture or the system we’ve built that allows this to continue to happen.”
When The Guardian contacted him earlier about allegations against him, coach Brad Evans responded via email with a statement saying:
In 2015, I was asked to answer questions about my relationships with some former colleagues. It was clear that my interactions with those colleagues showed poor judgment on my part and was against university policy, and resigning was best for everyone involved.
With the help of counseling I have learned a lot about the causes of my behavior. I am extremely lucky to have my wife’s support in this process. Together I keep learning to become a better person.
I am deeply sorry that I have disappointed so many people, but I will continue to work towards a positive future.
Thanks for the opportunity to give my perspective.