Two former Tech players challenge MaChelle Joseph’s statement that she was not abusive

Two former Georgia Tech women’s basketball players have publicly challenged former coach MaChelle Joseph’s assertions that she had never verbally or emotionally abused her players. One, Niesha Butler, said that Joseph was not only physically and emotionally abusive, but also sexually harassed her.

In a Facebook post Saturday, former player Mallorie Winn said that Joseph was “manipulative, vindictive, and emotionally turbulent.”

Their statements followed the release of Joseph's response to the independent investigation that led to her dismissal last Tuesday. In the report produced by the investigation — which was prompted by team members coming forward with concerns about mistreatment — players described her as a bully who was emotionally, mentally and verbally abusive. None of the 13 team members say she trusted Joseph.

In response, Joseph defined herself as intense but not abusive and said that the investigation was retaliation for raising concerns about unequal treatment for her team compared to the Tech men’s team. She has been supported by former players such as Tyaunna Marshall, an All-ACC player in 2014 who tweeted that “I am legit HURT about this news that I just got about my college coach,” referring to Joseph’s dismissal and calling it “complete (expletive).”

Another player, Irene Gari (2015-16) tweeted a photo of a smiling Joseph and Gari exchanging a high-five outside a team huddle during a game with the message “No caption needed. Missing these moments!”

But Joseph’s response prompted both Butler and Winn, who played for Tech in Joseph’s first years at Tech — she was hired as an assistant to Agnus Berenato prior to the 2001-02 season and then was named Berenato’s successor two years later — to issue statements alleging abuse at Joseph’s hands.

Butler, first in a statement to an Atlanta TV station, said that in January 2002 — Joseph’s first year as an assistant — the team was on a road trip in North Carolina when Joseph invited her to her hotel room. It is not an unusual situation, as coaches sometimes talk privately with players about their performance.

However, Butler said that Joseph encroached on her personal space and then “touched me in a very inappropriate way on my outer thigh and my butt.” After rebuffing her, Butler said that Joseph told her that she would never play basketball at Georgia Tech again.

Butler said she quickly left the room but remained silent about the alleged harassment as she was “scared and embarrassed.”

Butler also said that Joseph pushed and shoved players during practice and was verbally abusive to team members.

According to a 2002 story in the AJC, Butler left the team on Jan. 14, about a week after the alleged hotel room encounter. In her last game, Butler, who in her career was a frequent starter and was named the 1999 ACC rookie of the year, played only the final minute of a 31-point win over Virginia.

“That’s when it finally hit me,” Butler told the AJC. “This woman’s a problem. And to this day, I wish I would have spoken up or did something, because when I read that (investigative report), it was very similar to the stuff that she did to me, yelling in practices, pushing me, touching me, groping me. It’s like she demeans you for no reason.”

In a statement from Joseph’s attorney Lisa Banks, Joseph “categorically denies that anything like this ever happened.”

A person close to Butler shared with the AJC private Twitter messages from two current team members sent to Butler thanking her for coming forward. (The messages were shared on the condition the players not be identified.)

“Even though we know we did the right thing, there was still a sense of maybe we are crazy or doubts that people will believe us,” one message read. “After watching your message I found myself in tears because I saw that you do believe us and support us and that means so much to all of us.”

Winn played for Tech in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons (the latter was Joseph’s first as head coach) but left the team in January 2004. At the time, an athletic department news release attributed it to “personal reasons.” She later transferred to Pittsburgh, where Berenato was then coaching.

Winn said in her Facebook post that she filed a formal complaint against Joseph and wrote that the complaints by current Tech players in the investigative report were “eerily similar to mine. She was not a tough coach trying to get the best out of players. She was manipulative, vindictive and emotionally turbulent. I commend the current GT women’s team for their bravery.”

Winn wrote in the post that, given the complaint that she filed, she was infuriated by an AJC article that detailed her response to the investigation and included Joseph's assertion that she had never been accused of abuse.

“That is false,” Winn wrote. “I’m grateful to have had parents who protected me and guided me through this period of my life.”

A person close to Joseph said that she was not made aware of the complaint (filed shortly after she left the team) and that no actions were taken against her. Winn said that “The institute was aware, and the institute investigated.”