University of Illinois Springfield Golf Team Accuses Head Coach of ‘Shocking Abuse’

In recent interviews with 2aDays, University of Illinois-Springfield (UIS) student-athletes have accused head golf coach Michael Leotta of severe misconduct, exposing a troubling pattern of abuse and systemic failure within the university’s athletic department. These revelations reflect broader issues in collegiate athletics and underscore the urgent need for reforms to protect student-athletes.

Former athletic director Laura Liesman was allegedly aware of this abuse and did not address it. The players expressed concern over Leotta’s potential return, stating their reluctance to continue in the UIS program if he remains in his position. Liesman resigned at the end of November 2023, and according to NPR Illinois, “No reason was given.” Despite reaching out for comments on her resignation, the university has yet to respond.

The athletes, who have chosen to remain anonymous, described a range of disturbing incidents involving Leotta, from verbal abuse and discrimination towards international athletes to unsafe practices and neglect.

During a recent match, for example, the UIS women’s golf team endured 36 holes in the scorching sun without water for over nine and a half hours, as Leotta allegedly failed to provide any. This incident led to a confrontation at a rest stop, where Leotta allegedly reacted angrily, threw napkins, and accused the team of lacking competitive drive. He reportedly targeted and verbally harassed two international athletes, accusing them of never taking responsibility. This event left many members of the team visibly shaken and in tears.

Leotta’s initially welcoming behavior reportedly changes once athletes join the team. Complaints led to changes in accommodation practices from Airbnbs to hotel rooms. The team’s mental state has suffered, with one athlete taking a mental health redshirt due to anxiety allegedly caused by Leotta.

The case of the UIS golf team reflects systemic issues in collegiate athletics. The athletic department’s lack of accountability and inadequate response underscore the urgent need for change to ensure the safety and well-being of student-athletes. Addressing the culture of silence and tolerance of abuse within athletic programs is essential to prevent future incidents.

Universities must implement more robust oversight mechanisms, provide better support systems, and enforce strict penalties for misconduct. Holding everyone accountable, offering transparent and anonymous reporting processes, and prioritizing athletes’ mental and physical well-being are crucial steps to creating a safer and more supportive environment for all student-athletes.


Image of University of Illinois Springfield — Flickr

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  • Jessi Wynn

    Jessi Wynn is an intern at 2aDays for Summer 2024. She graduated from Florida State University in May 2024 with a double major in Public Relations and Sport Management. Jessi will continue her education at Florida State University, pursuing a Master’s degree in Sport Management starting in Fall 2024. She aspires to work in Public Relations for a professional sports team or league. Connect with Jessi on Instagram @jwynn03 and LinkedIn @Jessi-Wynn.

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2 thoughts on “University of Illinois Springfield Golf Team Accuses Head Coach of ‘Shocking Abuse’

  1. I find it interesting that on the collegiate level it is only male coaches who are accused of abusing their players.

    I mention this because some of the more egregious examples in the high schools involve female coaches abusing their female players. For example there is the case of Kelly Jo Cookson, the coach of the Brewer (ME) Girls Softball Team who forced her players to walk barefoot through sheep feces — when her contract was not renewed for the following year, she alleged that it was because she was a lesbian and not this incident. See: https://www.pride.com/news/jury-decides-if-softball-coach-cookson-was-fired-bei-lesbian

    Memory has it that another female coach was fired for having her high school students walking through chicken manure. (Brewer, a rural suburb across the river from Bangor, still has active farming operations.)

    What’s the variable here? A shortage of competent female coaches in K-12 (which there is) so they have more latitude than a college which could find a replacement for a female coach if it had to? Far smaller coaching staffs so that stories like walking through feces barefoot don’t come out until after players tell parents who then tell school authorities — where an assistant coach on scene would instantly say “WhiskeyTango Foxtrot?” and stop it there and then?

    Or is there some other dynamic here?

    I like to remind people that Gerald Arthur Sandusky was caught by a high school…

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