In this week's issue of Sports Illustrated senior writer Rick Reilly wrote about former Colorado kicker Katie Hnida, who told him that she had been verbally abused and molested by teammates, and was raped by one of them. SI.com spoke with Reilly about the reaction to the story, Colorado coach Gary Barnett's recent comments about Hnida and what steps the program must take next.
SI.com: How did your Hnida story come about?
Reilly: I live in Denver, and one night back in 1998 a local high school girl became the first person in history to kick a field goal the same night she was named homecoming queen. I just thought it was cool, so I wrote about her that week for the magazine. You talk about a bubbly kid who had the world on a string; that was Katie Hnida. She was an honor roll student, a state finalist for the forensics team, won best story in the state high school newspaper competition ... and she didn't miss an extra point or a field goal her senior year. She was just on top of world. So I wrote about her, and I've kept in touch with her ever since.
Two times during the last two years she said, "I have something big to tell you," but she decided both times that she couldn't go through with it. Last Tuesday she called me. I flew to Albuquerque to talk to her, and the story she told me was just horrific -- she said teammates cornered her in the hallway and threatened her with sex acts, calling her the C-word. She said that became her nickname on the team. She said she had been groped in the 100-man huddles at the end of practice, that players touched her breasts under her shoulder pads, groped her crotch. She said she had endured every kind of vulgar proposition -- "Why don't you come over to the house and do me?" One time she was sick and a player allegedly said, "Why don't you die already, bitch?" She said was eating lunch another day and a guy came up to her and asked, "Why haven't you quit yet, prom queen?" Just terribly degrading stuff, and then after the season she says she was raped by a teammate whom she had thought was her friend.
SI.com: What was her demeanor as she told you her story?
Reilly: I've noticed that the last two years she hasn't been the same person she was in high school. She's more cautious, her face is just sadder. She's more serious than she was. Throughout the interview, she was pretty strong. She cried a couple of times. A few times I could see her just gulping for a breath of air to give her strength.
SI.com: Do you believe her story?
Reilly: I've been writing about sports and people for 25 years, so I've learned not to believe everything I hear, but I have to say Katie's story was very believable. Her tears, the details, the depth of her recollection were all very believable. When she said she never felt welcome at Colorado, that it felt like her teammates were trying to drive her out ... you can see now, after hearing Gary Barnett talk about it, that it was the case. Barnett said she was "terrible" -- plus she was "a girl!" -- as if being a girl was bad enough? The Buffs have had some bad kickers on their team recently -- were those guys harassed and tormented? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard a coach say.
SI.com: Did you foresee the dramatic chain of events that have taken place since your story was published Tuesday?
Reilly: I knew it would be bad, because there had been so much frustration in Colorado about the fact that nothing had happened to Barnett or Dick Tharp, the CU athletic director, when so much was going on -- allegations of rape, strippers, escort services. This is just another log on the fire. There are now six alleged assaults. If those six are all true -- or if any of those allegations are true -- it's shameful. It makes you ashamed of your school.
SI.com: Did the university take the right course of action in placing Barnett on paid leave following his comments about Hnida?
Reilly: The university wants to fire Barnett. But because of the pending lawsuit [filed by a woman who alleges she was raped at a recruiting party in 2001], CU can't fire him, because he deserves due process from his employer. Plus, it's the university that's being sued. If Colorado officials admit, "Look, we now admit our football program was out of control under this guy," that'd be a sure way to lose that lawsuit pretty quickly. They're stuck, so they found this middle ground. But if he comes back, I'm Eleanor Roosevelt, because I don't think there's any way he's going to.
In interviews I did while working on the story, I asked both Barnett and Tharp flat out about the alleged fifth victim [whose allegations were made public for the first time Wednesday], whom I understood to be part of the football program and who said she was raped in 2001 but never filed a police report. I asked them both if they knew about the allegations, and they both said no. But now, according to the police report, it appears Barnett did know. So if you believe the head coach wasn't aware of any of this, you have to therefore admit you have a head coach who is clueless. I don't think you want either.
SI.com: Is Barnett ultimately to blame for the state of affairs at Colorado, or does it reach beyond him?
Reilly: I think the way we treat women in the culture in this country, especially among athletes, is problematic. I think athletes have trouble hearing the word "no." They don't hear it very often. Instead, they hear "yes," "it's free" and "we love you." That's a problem within the athletic culture. But, like it or not, in college football the head coach is responsible for his players' actions. He has to be accountable. What this head coach has been saying is, "No, I didn't know anything about it." And it think that's stretching believability to a snapping point.
SI.com: What can Colorado do to restore your faith in its football program?
Reilly: I think the program should get a new athletic director. I believe it needs a new head coach. And I think the head coach should be a guy named Dave Logan, who is one of the finest people ever to come out of Colorado. Dave is the play-by-play voice for the Denver Broncos, he was a big star in the state who later played for the Cleveland Browns, and he's a fantastic coach for Denver's JK Mullen High School who always gets his team to the state tournament. He's ready for the job.