When I opened Instagram today, I saw a post from Kara Goucher in response to the recent allegations against Coach Mark Wetmore. In a Runner’s World article from late last year, former CU Buffs runner Kate Intile, along with several other runners, alleged that the highly decorated program over-emphasized weight and body composition, leading to eating disorders.
Given Goucher’s history, I would have expected her to be supportive of the athletes. Instead, in the now-deleted post, Goucher, along with several other former CU Buffs runners, wrote messages praising and supporting Wetmore.
As a college runner myself, I’ve looked up to many of these runners for years, especially Goucher. I value and appreciate the work she has done to improve athletic culture. I understand that after having a positive experience with Wetmore as a coach, she—and the other runners in the post—would want to defend him.
In any form, I cannot speak to the truth of the allegations against Wetmore. That job is for the ongoing investigation and people involved. However, I will comment on the fact that many athletes who have had experiences similar to Intile’s—with different coaches—saw these posts. I ponder how the posts may impact their willingness to speak out knowing that this might be one of the consequences.
After Kara took her post down this afternoon, I had a former teammate reach out to ask me what I thought about it. I’ve never been on a team where weight was a fixation, but she and I had once been on a team where several athletes suffered mental health consequences from the environment. However, not everyone was treated the same. Some athletes had great experiences. When I saw Kara’s post, I wondered what would happen if an athlete from our team were to ever speak out about what happened. Would the athletes with positive experiences support them, or would they deny that the coach had done anything wrong because they hadn’t experienced it firsthand?
And this leads to a second point: It’s possible that both groups are telling the truth. Coaches don’t always treat everyone the same. Positive experiences don’t disprove anyone’s negative ones, no matter how large in number they may be.
Ultimately, even before the post, a good bit of the general public was already defending Wetmore against the allegations, but for different reasons. Many people in the athletic community would argue that any cost is worth a win: even an athlete’s mental and physical health. The Buffs are a winning team, so why criticize their coaching methods?
However, those arguments only take the perspective of the coach. For coaches, athletes come and go. The athletes are the ones that have to live with the consequences of their training, be it injuries, mental illness, or eating disorders. It should be their decision to put their health at risk for a win.
While we’re being recruited, coaches will promise to make us great. But they don’t always tell us how, and they usually don’t give us a choice. Right now, when athletes either speak out against abuse or drop out of their sport as a result, the blame is put back on them, not the coach. People will say they must have been “too weak”. Maybe they couldn’t handle elite-level pressure.
But if athletes are willing to put in the work of performing at their best, why shouldn’t coaches be held responsible for helping them get there in a way that won’t hurt them? It’s not an impossible task. For college coaches, winning isn’t the only part of the job description. As athletes, we wouldn’t have athletic trainers and a “mental health best practices” document from the NCAA if we weren’t supposed to stay healthy, mentally and physically.
At the end of the day, I hope the CU investigation leads to a fair and just outcome for everyone. Athletes, if you are struggling, please know that you aren’t alone. Your voice matters. Your experience is valid.