Seven Kansas rowers were suspended indefinitely in late March due to violating team rules regarding social media transparency with Kansas Athletics, according to information provided by the rowers to the Kansan. Four weeks on, no end is in sight for the investigation, with the seven rowers unable to practice or participate in any competitions with the team.
The suspensions came after the discovery of fake Instagram accounts, or “Finstas” as they are commonly known, by Kansas rowing coaches.
In an email sent to the seven rowers on April 12 by Kansas coach Carrie Cook-Callen and provided to the Kansan, the rowers were accused of violating section 501 of the Kansas Athletics Policies and Procedures Manual. Among several other prohibited behaviors on social media that include showing use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs on social media, section 501 of the manual states, “I will not create fake or alias social media accounts. I understand that any information placed on any social media site is a reflection of me, my team, Kansas Athletics and the University of Kansas.”
The Kansan spoke with two of the Kansas rowers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution by Kansas Athletics, who are included in the group of the seven rowers who have been suspended. While the pair of rowers acknowledge that they broke the rules by having social media accounts under aliases, they believe that Kansas Athletics is taking an unneeded amount of time in the investigation process. They also believe there has been a severe lack in communication between the coaches and the rowers involved in the investigation.
“There’s been basically no [communication]. I’m having to text coaches and they keep telling us that we’re going to be treated as individuals, that not everyone has had their investigations by KU Athletics so they can’t move forward,” said one of the rowers, a junior on the team. “But we’ve already missed [three] competitions, which is more than if you’d failed a drug test twice. And they won’t give us a date for a meeting or when we can hear anything about when we can be unsuspended.”
The pair of rowers also revealed that while only seven rowers are being investigated, the coaches and Kansas Athletics are aware of 30-plus girls on the team who have alias social media accounts. Both rowers feel that they are being targeted by the coaches, due to the fact that nobody else on the team outside the original seven is currently being investigated.
“It seems really targeted and very selective about who they have chosen to suspend and who they chose to keep on the team, and they’ve really been horrible about communicating,” said another rower.
According to the junior rower, the coaches have had conflicts with certain rowers on the team, with several of those being included in the suspensions.
Certain rowers have also been told by coaches that other teammates were complaining about their effort, and that other rowers are talking behind their back. Another aspect the rowers disagree with is a piece of paper tacked up daily in the boathouse that publicly states whether rowers are hitting their target times or not.
“The girls that are suspended, they’ve been in the lower boats or they’ve kind of had issues with the coaches from an injury standpoint,” the junior rower said.
The social media scandal highlights larger issues in the program since Cook-Callen took over from long-standing coach Rob Catloth at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Since becoming head coach, Cook-Callen made several adjustments to the team contract that must be signed by all rowers at the start of the season. Adjustments range from not being allowed to own aliased social media accounts to not being allowed to wear eye masks while on airplanes.
“I would say it was a lot better,” the junior rower said about rowing under Catloth. “Because you could kind of complain about [Catloth] then you’d go home and your life would still be your life. But coach Callen has just taken over everything, and you can’t really get away from her.”
The suspended rowers have now missed three competitions, with just the Sunflower Showdown and Big 12 championships remaining before the NCAA championships in late May.
“I just feel like KU Athletics and the coaching staff just need to be held accountable because they’ve just had so much power for so long, and it’s all gone to their heads,” the junior rower said.
Associate Athletic Director Jim Marchiony refused to comment on the suspensions.
— Edited by Britt Redmond