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Wolf Pack athletes voice concerns over mental health, nutrition, Title IX

Nevada
Nevada athletes cited mental health, nutrition, Title IX equality and relationships with administration as areas the Wolf Pack can improve upon. (KRNV file)

Nevada Wolf Pack athletes voiced concerns about mental health, nutrition, Title IX compliance and the lack of a relationship between athletes and administrators during its end-of-season anonymous survey conducted by the athletic department.

The 2019-20 survey results were obtained by Out of Bounds, which wrote a 5,000-plus-word article on Wolf Pack athletics as part of its “The best and the worst” series that examines being a Division I athlete based on end-of-the-season surveys at various colleges. You can read Out of Bounds' full story here.

The Wolf Pack conducts annual anonymous surveys to get candid responses from its athletes to help identify areas where more resources can be allocated, and in some cases reinforce areas Nevada is already focused on. The Wolf Pack estimates it has 400 athletes, and 112 across 16 sports filled out the 2020 survey, according to Out of Bounds, which got each survey via a public records request. While the answers were heavily redacted in some parts, 43 athletes (more than 38 percent) discussed mental health concerns.

Of the athletes responding to the survey, 44 percent were on full-ride scholarships, 38 percent on partial scholarship and 17 percent were walk-ons. Of the respondents, 61 percent were underclassmen and 39 percent upperclassmen. Here is a look at some of the main themes culled by Out of Bounds analysis. All quotes from the athletes were sourced from Out of Bounds' public records request to get the surveys.

Mental health

In July, Nevada Sports Net published an article detailing issues within the Wolf Pack women's basketball culture, which included several players who said the environment was damaging to their mental health. Out of Bounds' analysis, which did not identify athletes or coaches by name since they were redacted, found concerns of mental health were widespread.

Out of Bounds said almost every college's end-of-season survey, if done anonymously, will include requests for more mental health resources. "But the sheer volume of comments about mental health in Nevada’s latest survey was notable," wrote Out of Bounds, which recently did a deep dive on mental health for college athletes.

One athlete said their head coach, whose name was redacted, “does not really care about anyone’s mental health and treats people as (redacted) business instead of (redacted) players.” Another athlete estimated 50 percent of their team's roster was struggling with mental health while another expressed they only felt safe depending when certain coaches were around. “If (redacted) is around then I feel extremely unsafe and personally feel mentally/emotionally mistreated by (redacted)," the athlete said.

Wolf Pack students, including athletes, are eligible for free counseling through the university. The school also has a sports psychologist available, although four respondents said it was difficult to book an appointment with that doctor, writing:

* “The sports psychiatrist was out of town for most of our season and they were unable to get help for their mental struggles. So maybe hire another sports psychiatrist?”

* “Have more therapist (sic) available because it can be hard to get an appointment (if) they are away all the time and generally not available.”

* “The psychiatrist was gone all season."

* “I was lucky to have regular sessions with (redacted) but others didn’t get the chance to schedule appointments with a Sport-Psychologist because (redacted) was booked out.”

Some Wolf Pack players said their mental health struggles were a result of athletic department employees, the names of which were redacted by Nevada. They noted:

* “People should check how the coaching staff is affecting athletes’s mental health because I feel that there have been issues with this for multiple people on my team this year due to coaching staff.”

* “Sometimes I feel the coaching staff does not care. Play too many mind games to where I feel emotionally abused.”

* “The administration needs to listen to feedback regarding the (redacted) staff. Many individuals have serious mental health or body image issues due to their creation or a negative and aversive environment.”

While counseling services are offered, Wolf Pack athletes said having a better relationship with their coaches would help their mental health, a thought repeatedly offered to NSN during its look into the Nevada women's basketball program earlier this summer.

“Being a student is draining as it is, but being a student-athlete can push people over the edge both mentally and physically,” one player said. “I’m not suggesting that more counseling should be available but that the staff should be more conscientious of the struggles athletes can be going through internally and externally. The staff should genuinely care about their student-athletes and can demonstrate this concern merely from the interactions and conversations with student-athletes.”

In a statement to Out of Bounds, the Wolf Pack said: "The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, is at the heart of the mission and guiding principles of our athletics department. Expanding mental health resources has been a recent focus for our department and continues to be as we open up the 2020-21 year with a newly established partnership with Talkspace, which provides on-demand counseling services to all of our 400+ student-athletes at no cost to them. All Wolf Pack student-athletes also have available to them the full range of counseling services at the University that are available to all students."

Administration

Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they felt comfortable having open dialogue with their sport administrator over concerns or issues, but others described the relationship as non-existent or lacking trust. Several women's basketball players cited that during conversations with NSN earlier this summer.

In the end-of-season surveys, a lack of trust was mentioned by multiple athletes in regard to their relationship with administration.

“Whenever people have gone to sports administrators in the past, they have told our coaches who said their concerns,” one athlete wrote. “How are we supposed to go to you and talk if it’s not confidential and we can’t even get advice?”

Added another: “I feel like anything I said would be taken to my coach and not kept private.”

Among the other comments written by athletes were:

* “I do not feel comfortable about expressing issues with other staff because I do not want my feedback or questions to come back and have a negative impact on me.”

* “I feel like the athletic administration has done nothing to prior complaints about my sport’s head coach, and to approach them about serious issues regarding the head coach would remain unchanged and get myself into a worse position.”

* “I don’t feel comfortable talking about the issues over the past two years because I feel (redacted) would find out, hold a grudge and treat me unfairly as a result.”

* “If we have an open dialogue about issues that don’t concern (redacted) or school, to just keep it between the administrator and student-athlete. Don’t go off and tell our coaches when we especially came to them whom we know and trust they would keep it to themselves.”

Nutrition

Another major concern voiced by Wolf Pack athletes in the survey was the lack of proper nutritional services.

Nevada football recently started the "Eat to Win" program in which it feeds its players regularly, but the same support lacks in other sports, according to the survey results. The Wolf Pack typically has one of the lowest budgets in the Mountain West, which has made feeding its players more difficult. The Wolf Pack spent $383,336 annually on athlete meals, according to the latest available figures, with $215,532 being spent on football and $64,130 on men's basketball, the two revenue sports. That's $279,662, or 73 percent of the total being spent on roughly one-third of the Wolf Pack's athlete population. That's not uncommon as UNLV spent $364,533 on meals, including $322,652 for football and men's basketball (88.5 percent).

Of those who answered Nevada's survey, 20.5 percent said they were “very dissatisfied” with the nutrition program and 22.3 percent were “somewhat dissatisfied.” Those were the lowest scores of any category sampled.

‘I’d rather flip tires in a parking lot, and have a worn down weight room than not have the nutrition like the University of Nevada," one athlete wrote.

Another wrote: “Football gets multiple meals everyday and they still complain about the food that they get when we do not get any meals provided for us throughout the day.”

Some non-revenue sport athletes said they were only provided sporadic protein shakes.

“There is an immense amount of improvement that needs to be made when it comes to our nutrition program,” one Wolf Pack player wrote. “Considering the fact that we do not have one. We receive one shake four days a week during preseason and two shakes during season. There are no meals provided for us after practice or after weight. There is also no snack in the weight room during our lift time. However to my understanding a handful of other sports receive these luxuries.”

An athlete in track and field said it was difficult to maintain proper nutrition while balancing school and practice.

“The distance team goes into weights every single day and only gets a shake maybe once or twice a week if we are lucky,” the athlete wrote. “I have a lot of class conflicts and many times I am not supplied that adequate nutrition nor paid attention to when I come in on my own time after I arrange a specific time to come in.”

A Nevada softball athlete said they were given expired protein powder in the fall of 2019, although the Wolf Pack disputed that claim.

"To our knowledge, we have never served a product that was expired," Nevada told Out of Bounds. "Our nutritional shakes are a proprietary special order blend and there was an instance in 2019-20 in which the supplier mistakenly included a different ingredient, leading to an off flavor. That was rectified."

Title IX

Many female athletes addressed the lack of Title IX equality beyond nutrition.

“(Redacted) should go through another meeting with their head coach and a women admin staff member to address the way they should be talking to female athletes where certain vocabulary and attitudes are borderline unacceptable and sexually uncomfortable,” one Wolf Pack athlete wrote.

Added another: “We get the short end of the stick. Football and basketball get treated like royalty while us (women) don’t even get recognized to get treated well or poorly.”

One major issue came in softball's disparity in maintaining its field. Hixson Park opened in 2007 on the old Bishop Manogue property across from campus. The infrastructure around the field was not completely finished due to the Great Recession that hit toward the end of the construction. As a result, the team lacks a proper clubhouse to get changed. Players also described yellowing grass, gravel on the field that gives players cuts, a shoddy sprinkler system, a broken sound system and limited hitting tees. Additionally, there aren't permanent bathrooms, with players sharing port-a-potties with fans after the bathroom in the dugout broke.

“For a closely related sport such as the baseball team, there is a staggering gap between what they have and what we have and what we do on a daily basis,” one player wrote.

One player said she was embarrassed having to change in her car in the parking lot. Another describe the locker room as “a Matson shipping container."

"Improvements and additions to Hixson Park remain a concern for Nevada athletics," Nevada told Out of Bounds. "A renovated conex box was installed in 2019-20 as a temporary addition for the softball program to provide a changing and warming structure. Facilities has performed a pre-design study, assessing the needs to be addressed. Additional portable restrooms will be installed as a temporary measure when the team returns to competition in the spring."

Softball players said the team had to double as a groundskeeping crew, with one player saying the team spent eight hours shoveling snow from the field one day and another saying they have to pick rocks out of the field to avoid injuries.

“It is disgustingly unfair that a basketball or football player or coach would NEVER EVER be asked to take out the trash from their games or clean the facilities, however we do it on a daily basis,” one player wrote. “As far as I am concerned, Title IX does absolutely nothing to balance the experience between male and female athletics at the school.”

In response to the concerns about field maintenance, Nevada told Out of Bounds: "Conversations with University facilities departments are ongoing as it relates to additional services at our fields. Some sports, like baseball and softball, inherently have more or unique needs than others."

On the positive

There was some positive feedback in the survey, including 66.1 percent of respondents saying they were "very satisfied" with their academic advisor and academic facilities; 75 percent said they were "very satisfied" with NCAA compliance; 67.9 percent said they were "very satisfied" with the athletic trainers and team doctors; and 66.1 percent said they were "very satisfied" with the strength and conditioning staff and weight room. The school's practice facilities/equipment and marketing did not draw nearly as good of results.

Wolf Pack athletes also gave high marks to their assistant coaches, who 70.5 percent of respondents said “almost always” represent the university positively and behave as a professional with 67 percent saying they “almost always” have a positive relationship with and demonstrate genuine care and respect for the athlete. Head coaches got "almost always” grades 56 percent of the time in the "having a positive relationship" category and 65 percent in "representing the university positively and behaving as a professional."

Several athletes listed their coaches as great coaches or good people but cited a lack of communication and organization while mentioning emotional outbursts.

“During the middle of the season coach did not appropriately handle his anger and took it out on the team," one athlete wrote. "I do value his coaching and respect what he tells me. I do not always feel like he holds the same respect for us. He is a nice guy who I do respect but needs to learn to separate his feelings from his work.”

Added another: “My (redacted) has created a negative environment where the vast majority of the athletes feel constantly belittled. Frequently, we would be called ‘the worst team (redacted) had in 45 years.'"

Wolf Pack athletes overwhelmingly said their coaches support them academically, with 86.7 percent responding favorably to the question, “Are your coaches supportive of you academic pursuits as well as your time demands as a student and an athlete? Do they communicate well with your team?"

You can read the full Out of Bounds' report here.

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