School faces new sex assault allegation

Updated: February 18, 2004, 5:53 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- A female kicker's claim that she was raped by a University of Colorado football teammate four years ago has sent shockwaves through a program already rocked by sexual assault accusations.

Statement issued by Kate Hnida
The recent allegations into the football program at the University of Colorado have caused me to come forward with details of my own experiences at CU. They occurred several years ago while I was enrolled at the school and was a member of the football team.

To this day, I am dealing with the repercussions suffered from my short time at CU. I will have to deal with it for the rest of my life.

Making this information public was not an easy decision. It has been extremely difficult for me, my family and those closest to me, but it has also helped me. I did this because I hope no one else will have to deal with the horrors I've endured over the past few years.

I want to emphasize that a large number of my Colorado teammates during the fall of 1999 were good people. However, there were a select few whose actions towards me changed my life forever.

Being at the University of New Mexico the past 18 months and getting on the field again has really been a blessing. More than anything else, it has helped in my healing process. I have been able to play a game I love so much and also be part of a team that is like a family.

I have not had a single problem with any of my teammates at UNM. I have not received any special treatment, nor did I request any. That's a credit to the type of program that Coach (Rocky) Long is running at New Mexico.

Currently, my primary goals are to complete my education at the University of New Mexico and, hopefully, obtain a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Since I'm not officially on the team anymore, I'm training on my own while awaiting word from the NCAA regarding the appeal I submitted last Friday (Feb. 13).

I was not at the University of Colorado in the fall of 2001, so I cannot comment about the current allegations being made. However, I felt that my information is pertinent to the investigation being conducted. I have been in contact with Boulder (Colo.) County law enforcement authorities, but I do not expect to file any charges at this time.

Katie Hnida makes the allegation in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated, saying she wanted to come forward now because of the school's other problems. She said she didn't tell police when it happened in the summer of 2000 because she was too frightened.

The university said it planned to hire a special administrator to oversee its athletic department and football program.

Hnida issued a statement Tuesday through the University of New Mexico, where she is a student, to say she was "healing" from "horrors endured" while on the Colorado football team. The statement doesn't mention rape, and she said she doesn't plan to press charges.

But Hnida's statement was intended to confirm the Sports Illustrated report, New Mexico athletics spokesman Greg Remington said. Attempts to reach Hnida were not immediately successful; there is no telephone listing for her in Albuquerque.

Three other women have sued the University of Colorado in federal court, saying they were raped by players or recruits at or after an off-campus party in December 2001.

No assault charges have been filed in those cases, but Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan said in a deposition for one lawsuit that she believes the football program uses alcohol and sex to entice recruits. Keenan did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The Denver Post reported Wednesday that a fifth woman told police more than a year ago she was raped by a football player. That woman did not want to press charges.

"If and when she decides to come forward, I will support her in doing so, but I respect people's privacy," Keenan told the newspaper.

University president Betsy Hoffman said she and chancellor Richard Byyny trust athletic director Dick Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett. Barnett said he was surprised by Hnida's allegation and issued a public plea for her to provide him names, so he could investigate.

Barnett, who last fall called Hnida "a distraction to our team," said he was told of the alleged assault for the first time this week by a Sports Illustrated writer.

"It would help to know names, situations," Barnett said.

Barnett also took the time to critique Hnida's play. Wednesday's Denver Post reports that Barnett, when asked Tuesday about Hnida's situation, said that "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. You know what guys do? They respect your ability. You can be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, they'll respect you. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it."

This tack drew harsh criticism from Hoffman.

Statement issued by Gary Barnett
Katie Hnida has made some very strong allegations -- allegations, which she admits, I did not know about.

In the fall of 2003 when she announced that she would be making statements about her one year at Colorado, I called together all of the remainder of players who were on the team with Katie. I inquired about anything that may have happened when Katie was here that I needed to know about or should of known about. There was no information forthcoming.

Obviously, Katie's recent allegations have prompted me to once more make serious inquires into these accusations. I asked Katie's female academic counselor if Katie ever said anything to her about problems or issues while she was here and that answer was no.

I have since Monday had numerous calls and conversations with both male teammates and female staff members about Katie's time here and to date, no one can substantiate her allegations.

The department, (athletic) director Dick Tharp and myself take her allegations very seriously and would look into them immediately if further information, including identities, can be ascertained.

In January of 2000, Katie's father Dr. (Dave) Hnida expressed in a phone call how well Katie had been treated and how pleased they were with everything in our program.

I had two face-to-face conversations with Dr. Hnida and one concerned a complaint about a player verbally abusing her and I acted immediately by verbally disciplining the young man. The second conversation was about how he felt I had not treated Katie fairly when we did not take her back on the team in the fall of 2000. She could not be one of our top five kickers by her own admission. Dr. Hnida wanted me to reconsider.

As with any allegation of impropriety since I've been here, I have acted swiftly and thoroughly and will continue to do such in this case.

"Whatever he might have thought of her as a player, I think the real issue right now is the shocking allegations that came out in the Sports Illustrated article yesterday," Hoffman told KUSA-TV in Denver on Wednesday.

Last August, Hnida, 22, said she was a target of sexual harassment when she was at Colorado but did not mention rape. She told Sports Illustrated, however, she was assaulted in 2000 at a teammate's home.

"He starts to kiss me," she said. "I told him, 'That's not OK.' Next thing I know he's on top of me. I told him, 'No!' ... I tried to push him off me, but he outweighed me by 100 pounds."

She said she was able to escape after the telephone rang. Asked why she didn't tell police, she said she was afraid of the player and didn't want a "media mess."

Hnida did not try out for the Buffaloes in 2000 after Barnett said he told her she would have to beat out other kickers for the job. Last fall, Hnida said she didn't return for several reasons, including "an incident during that summer."

Hnida later became the first woman to compete in a Division I-A football game when she attempted an extra point for New Mexico in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl. That kick was blocked. Last August, she became the first woman to score in a Division I-A game when she kicked two extra points for New Mexico in a win over Texas State-San Marcos.

Hnida's claims were the newest addition to a growing list of allegations against a program that CU officials have vehemently defended.

The school then selected an outside panel to handle a comprehensive investigation when Gov. Bill Owens threatened to do that himself.

Hoffman said she and Byyny cannot be in the athletic department daily while trying to "perhaps save the university from imminent financial ruin" due to budget cuts, and need help from an administrator with experience at a major university and with Division I-A athletics.

"We need someone with no stake in the outcome," she said.

The outside panel picked by CU regents is to report by April 30.

The panel has run into its own trouble because of potential conflicts of interest. Kenneth Vardell, a retired FBI agent, resigned after regents realized he had administered a lie-detector test to a player after the 2001 party. Officials said he wouldn't be replaced and the remaining seven members could do the work.

Another member, Pentecostal bishop Phillip Porter, helped lead the Promise Keepers religious movement launched by former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney in the 1990s. Poter said board chairman Peter Steinhauer told him he wants Porter to remain on the commission.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press