by Jake Knoeller, Camille Delany, and Angel Barker
Disclaimer: A reporter for The Lumberjack sat down with 8 men’s basketball players for a group interview. All of the quotes featured in this article are from this group of players.
The Cal Poly Humboldt men’s basketball team coach Tae Norwood and athletic department have come under scrutiny following allegations of abuse by players on the team.
Several current players spoke to The Lumberjack on the condition of anonymity. Their allegations range from emotional abuse and false promises to misappropriated funds and faked COVID test results.
College basketball coaches often push their players to the limit, but the accusations coming from Humboldt’s men’s basketball team suggest an overwhelmingly toxic culture promoted by Norwood.
“This is not college basketball,” one player said. “This is not how individuals should be treated on a daily basis.”
The Eureka Times-Standard reported on March 25 that recently resigned athletic director Cooper Jones was made aware of the allegations in January, but did not appear to respond to concerned parents’ emails. The players corroborate this.
“He knew we didn’t appreciate the way he was talking to us off the court and he told us, ‘Go ahead and tell the AD [athletic director], I don’t give a fuck, he ain’t gonna do nothing anyways,’” a player recounted. “And that was a big thing for us, because we felt helpless.”
Jones’ late February resignation seems conveniently timed to the players.
“He [Norwood] was in cahoots with the AD, and the AD is gone now,” another player said. “It’s all adding up.”
Norwood would accuse players of faking injuries during intense days of practice, endangering them.
“Last year a few of us got sick with COVID before San Marcos and he told us to fake our COVID tests,” one player said.
He regularly verbally abused players, using phrases like, “Fuck y’all,” and, “Mind your fucking business.” Some players recalled Norwood cursing at minimum wage workers while on a trip.
“He told us that if we have a problem with what he says and try to speak back to him about it, we would be suspended indefinitely,” another player said.
“Sometimes he’d use us as his personal punching bag or stress ball,” said one player. “The way he’s treating us is making us fall out of love with the game.”
“When you dedicate your life to something and you’re in love with the sport, and then you have a guy in charge who has no interest in your well being and he has a vendetta against you, it takes a huge toll on you,” one player said. “It’s not like an injury the trainers can help you with.”
“He’s not getting the best out of us by abusing us, he’s just abusing us,” another player said.
Some players allege that Norwood used funds to fly first class, and would restrict their daily budget for food while on trips. He also made empty promises to players regarding their housing, the program’s funding, and the team’s status.
One player says that Norwood told his family that his housing would be paid for, a promise that he never fulfilled.
Another player recalled a different recruiting effort that Norwood used to get him to play for Humboldt.
“Basically, he told us the school is aiming to go Division 1 in a couple years,” he said. “That he [Norwood] would be out at dinner and boosters would come up to him and write him checks for $10,000, $30,000, and $50,000 and he would just keep talking [about the money].”
According to the players, Norwood would say that the program had a lot of money because there is no longer a football program, and two teams are not competing for the same amount of funds.
Among the empty promises Norwood made while recruiting was the prospect of getting compensated.
“He told us we would get a NIL deal and we would all get $2,000 each,” one player said. NIL stands for “name, image, and likeness,” where student athletes can get financial compensation through their own personal brand as an athlete. The players never saw that money.
“What he is saying and what he is doing is just not adding up, and it’s not good,” said a player.