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In the latest reckoning over a sex abuse scandal, San Jose State has agreed to pay $560,000 to a former deputy athletic director who was fired after standing up for a whistleblowing swim coach who tried to stop a trainer’s abuse of female athletes.

The settlement with Steve O’Brien announced Wednesday comes two weeks after the university settled a separate lawsuit with swim coach Sage Hopkins, agreeing to pay him $225,000 and promote him to management.

“It’s a reminder of the all-too-common issue of student athletes being mistreated and the processes that result in the retaliation against those who would stand up on their behalf,” O’Brien said in an interview Wednesday, “and why people don’t come forward sooner and why this kind of abuse can go on for so long.” Steve O’Brien, former deputy athletic director for San Jose State University, announced Wednesday, Jan. 26, that he had settled his lawsuit with the university for $560,000, after he claimed he was fired for standing up for a swim coach who blew the whistle on the head athletic trainer accused of abusing female athletes. (photo courtesy of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy law firm) 

The settlements came after the U.S. Department of Justice last fall ordered the university to pay $1.6 million to victims of head athletic trainer Scott Shaw. The department issued a scathing report about the university’s handling of the athletes’ complaints and its treatment of the swim coach who tried to protect them. The report also found that O’Brien had been retaliated against when he was fired in March 2020.

The scandal led to the resignations late last year of university President Mary Papazian and Athletic Director Marie Tuite and the requirement that the university seek out more than 1,000 student athletes who may have been treated by Shaw until he voluntarily left the university in 2020.

The abuse surfaced in 2009, when Hopkins came forward with allegations by a dozen female swimmers saying Shaw inappropriately touched them under their bras and underwear under the guise of therapy. Despite an in-house investigation clearing Shaw in 2010, Hopkins continued his campaign against the trainer for a decade to try to protect female athletes. When Tuite directed O’Brien, her second-in-command, to discipline the swim coach in 2020, O’Brien refused and was fired.

“I was being used as a surrogate to do what other individuals who had been accused of wrongdoing couldn’t do directly,” O’Brien said.

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Although Papazian had been aware of the allegations since 2016, she didn’t order a new investigation of Shaw until late 2019, after the swim coach took his complaints outside the university. That new investigation sided with the student athletes.

“His case exemplifies the integrity required to stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences,” O’Brien’s lawyer, Tamarah Prevost, said in a statement.

After he was fired, O’Brien took a job at Santa Clara University’s law school as senior assistant dean for external relations. He said he is anxious to return to a role in athletics.

No charges have been filed against Shaw, who has declined media requests. He remains under investigation by the FBI.

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Valley opens doors to new athletic complex

LUCASVILLE—Troy Gahm hasn’t grown tired yet of folks’ reactions to seeing the new athletic complex at Valley High School for the first time. Walking through the doors into the sprawling new facility, it’s difficult for guests not to gasp followed by a long exclamation of “wow!”

“That’s everybody’s first reaction,” Former President and current member of Valley Local’s Board of Education, Troy Gahm said with a proud chuckle. And Valley High School certainly has much to be proud of with this newest addition to their campus. Students at Valley from the sports teams to the marching band can now enjoy some of the finest amenities as they prepare for their next big win.

The complex—sprawling in size and with state-of-the-art features—is also impressive in its thoughtful detail. All the way down to the floors, which are flecked with purple in a tribute to the school’s colors, no aspect was overlooked.

The first floor, which is equipped with massive garage doors in addition to the entrance, also features a sprawling practice field area with turf, and a 30×80’ cluster of strength training equipment and weights on the other side. Restrooms, locker rooms, and equipment areas are quickly and easily accessible through a single, short hallway from there—a far cry from the trek upstairs students needed to make in the old facility if they needed a drink of water or restroom break.

Now, a trip upstairs instead leads to another massive floor, and one with windows that overlook Valley’s football field, the scoreboard gleaming in the distance. Here, athletes, coaches, and administrators will be able to utilize more equipment rooms, a film room, and even an area for batting cages.

“The whole building is fire-rated,” explained Gahm. Safety features and a fire door ensure that in the unlikely event of a fire, it would be contained quickly. The building is also constructed in a way that ensures students can be easily monitored by staff at all times, either from the viewing areas or on camera.

The pandemic as well as resulting supply chain issues led to some construction delays initially, but Gahm is proud to say that it was all worth the wait.

“We started here on the first of November, 2019,” he explained. Opening now, to the delight of students, alumni, and supporters, is a great point of pride for Gahm and the rest of the Valley Indians.

“Really the goal was for [the students] to have a nice facility. We went from having a little over a million dollars in the bank when I first started on the Board 15 years ago, and that dropped off quickly. We had to re-organize some stuff, and now we are over $15 million in the bank. So it was nice to be able to put a couple million in and build something for the future. This building is going to be here long after I’m gone, I’m hoping,” Gahm said.

Along with support from the Valley local community, Gahm is grateful for the involvement of District Superintendent, Scott Rolfe, on the project.

“I think me and Scott [Rolfe] have a couple thousand hours apiece out here so far. This really is our baby, and we wanted it done right. We looked at every detail so that we could make it as nice as possible. We really wanted to blow people away when they walked in here.” Rolfe echoes the hope that the athletic complex will remain a tribute to a legacy of success at Valley Local Schools.

“Our original goal was: what can we do that’s going to have an impact on every sport?” Rolfe said. “Every sport we have here at this school can use this building somehow, some way. Our goal was that every kid could be able to use it.”

And it’s the feedback from the students who have trained there so far that really says it all.

“They love it,” Rolfe said. “We are proud of this, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean the district itself. I’m grateful that we have a Board that was willing to go in this direction once plans were presented. We’re grateful that they listened to the idea, and that now we have a finished product.”

The weight room is just one of many state-of-the-art features within Valley’s new athletic complex.

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