School responds to latest rape allegation

Updated: February 18, 2004, 11:20 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The University of Colorado said it planned to hire a special administrator to oversee its athletic department and scandal-plagued football program after a female placekicker said she was raped by a teammate four years ago.

Katie Hnida said in the upcoming edition of Sports Illustrated that she was assaulted in the summer of 2000. Now at the University of New Mexico, she last year became the first woman ever to score points in a Division I-A college football game.

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 of the lawsuits that she believes the football program uses alcohol and sex to entice recruits. Keenan did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Meanwhile, The Denver Post reported Wednesday that a fifth woman told police more than a year ago that 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.

Hnida, 22, issued a statement Tuesday through the University of New Mexico, saying she was "healing" from "horrors endured" at Colorado. The statement does not mention rape, and she says she does not plan to press charges.

Hnida's statement, however, was intended to confirm the account in Sports Illustrated, New Mexico athletics spokesman Greg Remington said. Attempts to locate Hnida were not immediately successful; there was no telephone listing under her name in Albuquerque.

University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman and Chancellor Richard Byyny said the special administrator will work within the athletics department and report directly to them. They said they're seeking someone who is familiar with athletics programs at a major university. "I think if this person is in the department every day, if such conduct exists this person would see it," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said she and Byyny trust athletic director Dick Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett but still need someone's help to monitor the situation. She added that she was busy dealing with the possibility of state budget cuts that threaten "imminent financial ruin."

Barnett said he was surprised by Hnida's allegation. Asked whether he intended to step down as Colorado's coach, Barnett said no. He also called Hnida's play "terrible." That drew criticism from Hoffman.

"I'm very sorry that he made those comments and I'm certainly going to have a conversation with him today," Hoffman told KUSA-TV in Denver on Wednesday.

"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."

The governor has urged the university to take action and an independent panel has been chosen to put together a report by April 30 on recruiting practices. University officials have denied Keenan's allegations.

Hnida was on Colorado's roster in 1999 as a walk-on, but never got into a game. Last August, she said she was a target of sexual harassment when she was at Colorado but did not mention rape. She told Sports Illustrated, however, that 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 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 72-8 win over Texas State-San Marcos.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press