When nine Ohio State cheerleaders were questioned during an investigation into sexual harassment allegations brought against two assistant coaches, none of the students were surprised a complaint was filed. The coaches’ behavior, which included hinting at sex and touching team members inappropriately, was described as “creepy,” but it was conduct the cheerleaders had come to expect.
All of the athletes interviewed said they had witnessed, heard about or been subjected to the inappropriate conduct, but it took an anonymous report for the university to take action.
The two coaches were fired in May after an OSU investigation found “sufficient evidence” both men had violated the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy.
OSU received an anonymous complaint via EthicsPoint, OSU’s anonymous reporting line, April 6 that accused OSU assistant cheerleading coaches Eddie Hollins and Dana Bumbrey of creating a hostile environment by sexually harassing cheerleaders, according to investigation records obtained by The Lantern. The report alleged Hollins had specifically harassed male cheerleaders, while Bumbrey had specifically harassed female cheerleaders.
OSU’s Sexual Harassment Policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances” and “requests for sexual favors,” and includes “other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature” when, among other conditions, it creates an “intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for working, learning or living on campus.”
Hollins and Bumbrey were both terminated “for cause” May 23, according to letters to each coach received from Kim Heaton, the director of human resources for the OSU athletic department. The Lantern obtained the records Nov. 7 to fill a records request filed Aug. 30.
“The university conducted a complete and thorough investigation and found that the behaviors of Hollins and Bumbrey were inconsistent with university values and violated university policies,” OSU spokesman Gary Lewis told The Lantern Sunday. “Based on those findings, the university determined that their conduct warranted termination.”
The men were terminated two days after the findings of the investigation were reported to OSU athletic director Gene Smith and head cheerleading coach Lenee Buchman in a case report. That report from OSU employee and labor relations consultant Kristi Kuhbander was also obtained by The Lantern.
Hollins, Bumbrey, Buchman and nine cheerleaders who were on the team at the time were interviewed in the investigation regarding the allegations against Bumbrey and Hollins.
The initial report
In her interview with the investigator, Buchman confirmed a male cheerleader reported to her sometime around July 2012 that he had received “inappropriate text messages” from Hollins. Buchman told investigators that after receiving that report from the cheerleader, she addressed Hollins directly and requested he cease sending any personal text messages to students. She did not, however, report the complaint to OSU’s Office of Human Resources.
A June 20 letter to Buchman from Heaton said Buchman “did not follow the proper channels” of reporting the initial complaint from an OSU cheerleader and instead tried to resolve the issues on her own. The letter stated OSU coaches are “required to report any complaints that a reasonable person would believe to be sexual harassment.”
Buchman, who has been OSU’s head coach since July 2009, was retained by the university.
Former OSU cheerleader Cody Ellis made the initial complaint to Buchman. Ellis’ attorney, John Camillus, confirmed Ellis received inappropriate text messages from Hollins on July 14, 2012.
Among those texts from Hollins were messages such as “can’t wait to see your hit (hot) a–” and “send me some pics and video.”
Camillus said the university should have responded sooner to Ellis’ complaint.
“Cody Ellis came forward with claims of sexual harassment at the hands of (an) Ohio State coach. He came forward repeatedly, and he shouldn’t have had to come forward repeatedly, but he did,” Camillus said. “Eventually, it became clear that his allegations were truthful, and that the coach in question was engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct and a coach was terminated.”
Camillus spoke on behalf of Ellis, whom he did not allow to speak with The Lantern. Camillus, who said he was hired because Ellis was “concerned about retaliation,” said he felt it was in Ellis’ best interest for him not to speak with the media.
According to the case report, Hollins initially denied sending any text messages to any cheerleaders on the team, but admitted he had done so after being shown printed copies of the messages.
The report indicated Hollins said he did not intend for the text messages to be interpreted as a solicitation for sex.
The anonymous complaint: Eddie Hollins
In addition to the text messages Hollins sent July 14, 2012, the report indicates the anonymous complaint accused Hollins of “touching male cheerleaders in a sexual and suggestive manner on the buttocks and ‘privates’” and of making sexual comments and innuendos directed toward male cheerleaders.
The report indicated Hollins said he has never touched a student in a sexual way, but acknowledged to the investigator that he has “ball-tapped” a few male cheerleaders. He also told the investigator he had touched both male and female cheerleaders on the buttocks and said “good job.”
All nine cheerleaders interviewed by the investigator said they were not surprised by the allegations because Hollins regularly said things that were sexual in nature and he appeared to be “too comfortable in the cheerleading environment.”
According to the report, all witnesses said it was common for Hollins to make gestures such as commenting on someone’s personal appearance in a suggestive or flirtatious manner. All of them said Hollins had either spoken to them directly or they had overheard him speaking to another person about topics related to sex.
Records indicate four of the nine team witnesses said they had either seen or been subject to Hollins’ suggestive or inappropriate touching.
Hollins also told the investigator he took multiple male cheerleaders to his personal gym, the Athletic Club of Columbus on 136 E. Broad St., which he said he did to help students who asked for assistance on their lifting schedules. Hollins confirmed to the investigator that on a couple occasions at the Athletic Club, he was naked in front of students while showering.
All nine witnesses told the investigator they were either part of or knew the members of the cheerleading team who went with Hollins to the Athletic Club. Two of the witnesses who had gone to the Athletic Club with Hollins said they had been asked by him, in separate instances, if they wanted to shower at the same time he was showering, according to the report. Both witnesses told the investigator they had felt uncomfortable and declined the invitation to shower.
The spring investigation was not the first time Hollins had been investigated for sexual harassment. Hollins was previously investigated for an allegation of sexual harassment by the Office of Human Resources in 2006, according to the case report.
At the time, Hollins was put on notice of the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy. He was also told that “as a coach for The Ohio State University he should not engage in behaviors such as slapping cheerleaders on the buttocks,” the case report said in regards to the 2006 investigation.
Hollins, a 1994 OSU graduate and the founder of the Cheer Combine in Dublin, was involved with OSU cheerleading off and on for more than 20 years.
Hollins did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Lantern.
The anonymous complaint: Dana Bumbrey
The anonymous complaint accused Bumbrey of making sexual comments and innuendos directed toward female cheerleaders, touching female cheerleaders in a sexual and suggestive manner on the buttocks and breasts, playing with female cheerleaders’ underwear and biting female cheerleaders’ ears while helping them tumble.
All nine cheerleaders interviewed in the investigation said they were not surprised by the allegation that Bumbrey made sexual comments and innuendos directed toward female cheerleaders, because they had witnessed Bumbrey make comments of a sexual and flirtatious nature to either themselves or to other cheerleaders.
Bumbrey told an investigator April 26 he was surprised by the allegations, and explained that jokes and humor with a sexual connotation regularly occur among the team and the coaches, according to the OSU investigation records.
Bumbrey said to an investigator he had told female cheerleaders they “always have their legs spread.” He also admitted to calling a female cheerleader by the nickname “fornicate,” though he said he did not intend for that nickname to be interpreted sexually.
The report stated Bumbrey said he never intentionally flirted with any particular female cheerleader, though he said he had a friendly personality that could be interpreted as flirtatious.
Bumbrey told the investigator he tickled female cheerleaders, but stopped after one female cheerleader told him she did not like when he did that to her. He also said that in some stunting exercises, female cheerleaders might be touched on different parts of their bodies such as the buttocks and chest area, but said it was for safety purposes to catch the cheerleader and wasn’t meant to be sexually suggestive.
Bumbrey denied touching any female cheerleaders’ underwear. According to the investigation records, none of the witnesses could substantiate that Bumbrey has directly touched or played with the underwear of female cheerleaders.
One female witness, however, said Bumbrey pulled back the elastic of her shorts from behind and looked down her shorts. Two witnesses confirmed they have seen him do this to one or more female cheerleaders. Bumbrey denied that allegation in a May 6 follow-up interview with the investigator.
Bumbrey also denied that he bit the ear of a female cheerleader, but said he had kissed both female and male cheerleaders on the cheek to show affection as he would with a member of his family.
“Mr. Bumbrey explained the dynamic of the cheerleading team is much like a family; therefore none of his actions are intended to be perceived in a sexual manner,” the case report said.
All nine witnesses told investigators that Bumbrey’s actions made people feel uncomfortable when they first became a member of the team.
All of the female witnesses interviewed, according to the investigation records, indicated that Bumbrey’s actions had an impact on them.
Bumbrey, a 1995 graduate of OSU, had been a member of the coaching staff since August 2009 and was an OSU cheerleader from 1992-95.
The Lantern’s attempts to reach Bumbrey were unsuccessful.
The June 20 letter said Buchman and her coaching staff would be required to attend a sexual harassment education session in July. Buchman attended the mandatory sexual harassment training with the entire team July 26, Lewis told The Lantern.
The two assistant coaches were replaced by Steve Chorba and Ray Sharp, who were announced as the team’s new assistant coaches Aug. 22. Buchman received a 1 percent salary raise Aug. 23, one day after the new hires were announced, to $43,003 from her former salary of $42,577.
In an interview with The Lantern Aug. 28, Buchman declined to comment on the firings of Bumbrey and Hollins.
“I can’t really discuss personnel decisions,” Buchman said. “I’m really excited about our staff. I think the combination of Steve and Ray in moving forward is just going to be a really positive outlook for the program, and I see great things happening.”
That team moving forward, however, did not include former cheerleader Cody Ellis.
Ellis’ attorney, John Camillus, said between the time OSU’s investigation into the former assistant coaches’ behavior began and the two men were fired, Hollins accused Ellis of sexually assaulting a family friend of Hollins’ who was not a member of the OSU cheerleading team.
Camillus said Buchman suspended Ellis from the team during the Student Conduct investigation into the charge against Ellis. Ellis was exonerated from the charge, but he was never reinstated to the team.
Camillus said Ellis was told he was removed from the team for having a “bad attitude,” although Ellis reported to OSU he believed his dismissal from the team was in retaliation for his report of Hollins’ sexual harassment.
Camillus said a subsequent OSU investigation determined Ellis’ claim was unsubstantiated, but Camillus believes the “connection is clear.”
“The idea that the one member of the team with an attitude that was so bad that Ms. Buchman had to kick him off the team just so happened to be the person who came forward with sexual harassment allegations that got her coaches fired is preposterous,” Camillus said.
Lewis said he could not comment on Ellis and his status with the team because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which requires schools to have written permission from a student in order to release information from the student’s educational record to the public.
Camillus also said Hollins made at least one appearance at an OSU cheerleading practice following both Hollins’ termination and Ellis’ dismissal.
Lewis confirmed to The Lantern that Hollins appeared at one OSU practice this summer. Lewis said Hollins’ visit was “unannounced” and said Hollins was “asked to leave immediately.”
Ellis has not filed any lawsuits against OSU or any current or former members of the coaching staff, Camillus said.
Camillus said Ellis, a fifth-year in exercise science, is still enrolled at OSU.
Buchman declined The Lantern’s request for comment during OSU’s football game Saturday in Champaign, Ill. She has not been made available to The Lantern for comment.
Athletic director Gene Smith has also not been made available to The Lantern for comment. In interviews with The Lantern, Lewis said he was speaking on behalf of both the university and Smith.
Camillus said he believes the fact that Buchman remains with the team, while Ellis does not, “sends a loud and despicable message to the entire Ohio State community, and particularly to victims of sexual misconduct.”
“And that message is, keep your mouth shut,” Camillus said. “If you speak up, they will not protect you.”