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Michigan Men's Coach Facing Accusations Mistreatment Players Staff
Photo credit: Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press

MICHIGAN MEN'S HEAD COACH FACING ACCUSATIONS OF MISTREATMENT OF PLAYERS & STAFF

AUG 2, 2022  (13H59)      JON
Katie Strang of The Athletic dropped another bomb on the hockey world this morning when she reported that Mel Pearson, Head Coach for the University of Michigan Men's hockey team, has been accused of berating staff, misleading recruits, and retaliating against a former team captain.


In her report, Strang says an anonymous survey, distributed among the University of Michigan men's hockey program's players and staff, revealed that Pearson allegedly encouraged players to lie on COVID contact-tracing forms, of misleading recruits about scholarship money, and called one player a 'Jew.'

Separately, an investigative report launched into the program by the university through lawfirm WilmerHale also held disturbing results. In the findings, several witnesses alleged that Pearson forced Strauss Mann, the team's starting goaltender & Captain, to leave the program, suggesting a 'retaliation for trying to address and improve the team's culture.' WilmerHale also added that athletic department personnel did not find Pearson's account of said incident credible.

Shortly after the team's return from the 2021 National Championship tournament, multiple individuals spoke on the matter. Mann declined to comment, although notes of his were submitted to WilmerHale by the university. Mann & Pearson met on April 2, 2021, according to Strang. During which, Mann vocalized concerns over Pearson & the way he ran the hockey program. Citing issues of 'respect,' Mann continued. By the meeting's end, both men became 'upset,' according to the testimony of a video coach asked to sit in on the meeting.

Mann's notes obtained by WilmerHale suggest 'that (Mann) was no longer welcome in the hockey program.' Video Coach Ethan Hall testified that, according to Pearson, Mann would be welcome to return to the team but would need to earn back his teammates' trust and may be demoted from his leadership role. Hall's notes from the meeting stated that Mann 'felt like he wasn't welcome back and if he did (return), he wouldn't play.'

Furthermore, Mann felt that Pearson would threaten further professional opportunities if he persisted. Pearson denied any indication that Mann left due to 'friction.'

Strang summarized the debacle, and players' hesitation to speak up:

"Both the summary and the WilmerHale report also state that players and staff worried they would face retribution if they spoke out about wrongdoing."

Further to Strang's thorough reporting on the matter, Pearson was also criticized for an 'inability or unwillingness' to reprimand Rick Bancroft, Director of Hockey Operations, for conduct such as the 'mistreatment of female staff members.'

Equipment Manager Ian Hume told investigators he witnessed Bancroft's mistreatment of other staff members. Hume believed the treatment was directed at staff members Bancroft views as 'less significant than he is,' rather than deliberately gender-based. Which is arguably worse.

Kristy McNeil, Associate Director of External Relations, claims that both Pearson and Bancroft discriminated against her, 'belittling her, preventing her from entering the hockey locker room and excluding her from team activities and meals.' While McNeil declined to comment, Hume added:

"I don't think Mel is anti-female, but the thing that bothered me is that Bancroft was allowed to be a bully, especially to female staff. I just thought that wasn't right."

In response to these allegations, Mel Pearson in February said, 'I feel very confident that the allegations will be proved wrong.'

In light of the 68-page report, WilmerHale suggested the university address the following:

- The 'mistreatment of female staff members' by Bancroft, who had been at Michigan since 1991 and was named the team's director of hockey operations in 2018. (Bancroft retired June 20.)
- Pearson's 'inability or unwillingness to hold Bancroft accountable for his conduct.'
- 'Pervasive fears among both student athletes and staff members of retaliation by (Pearson) for raising issues.'
- 'Inconsistencies in (Pearson's) recollection, perception, and/or characterization of key incidents and issues as compared with other participants.'

Ultimately, this incredibly detailed assessment of the University of Michigan's hockey program highlight the cultural norms that the sport and its people want stripped down. The culture of silence, manipulation and abuse runs deep in society & sport alike. Fortunately, as information becomes incredibly transparent, so will the misgivings of those previously thought to be above reproach. This story is developing, so expect more details to surface in the coming weeks & months.
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