A former student at the University of California is accusing unidentified football coaches and a player of subjecting her to “ruthless, endless and persistent” sexual harassment that ultimately forced her to leave Berkeley after her complaints were ignored.
Paige Elizabeth Cornelius detailed the allegations in a lengthy Facebook post published Wednesday, saying her time working for the football team’s sports medicine unit last season quickly became a nightmare as a “tall, attractive blonde girl” amid a rush of unchecked masculinity.
“My first day at work I was excited, I love being in an athletic atmosphere, and I had always been a huge Cal fan,” Cornelius wrote. “6:30 AM rolls up, and I am already on the field as the players start to come out. Maybe because I am a new face in the sports medicine squad, but maybe for other reasons, I was being stared at up and down, by coaches and [players] alike.”
Hours later, after her first practice wrapped up, Cornelius’ Instagram started to “blow up,” she said, with “creepy messages” asking her to come over or inviting her to parties. She said she expected to get that type of response from players, saying, “I’m in college this is normal.”
What shocked Cornelius was the alleged sexual harassment she endured from coaches, including three she accused of “staring at my butt” while standing in a huddle behind her during a practice as she wore black leggings.
The treatment by one unnamed coach, Cornelius said, “truly kept me up at night” and made her dread going to practice.
“He would stare at me, wink, and ask me to guess what he wanted,” she wrote. “He would grab my arm and look at me with knowing eyes, and I would get so scared I would toss a bottle at him and run away.”
The ongoing sexual harassment continued as one coach cornered her near the “tunnel entrance” of the field and asked her personal questions, including whether she had a boyfriend and if he was her “type,” she said.
“To no surprise, he found me on Instagram, and starting messaging me, for which I then blocked him,” she continued. “One day after practice, I realized he was following me home, as he was supposed to be going in the opposite direction, but was keeping a close pace behind me before he caught up to me outside my front door.”
The coach, who Cornelius said is still employed by the team, then asked her what she was doing that weekend and suggested they go to a pool because she “would look amazing in a bikini,” she said.
Another coach also reached out to Cornelius on Instagram and liked every picture in which she was wearing a bikini. The coach became “so persistent” in subsequent text messages, eventually inviting her to the stadium offices at midnight after she mentioned that she was having trouble with an economics class.
“I was under the influence, and not legally in a state of mind to be consenting to sex,” Cornelius wrote. “He snuck me into his office, I put my backpack and binder down, and he immediately grabbed for my waist. I was terrified, my mind was fuzzy, and I do not remember much from that night. He kept kissing me, pushing me against the wall, and I left.”
The following day, Cornelius said, the coach cornered her at practice and told her flatly: “If you do not have sex with me, I will get you fired.”
The coach later told Cornelius to come to his room during a Cal home game and started getting undressed when she arrived, prompting her to start crying uncontrollably. The coach then ordered her out of his room, saying he could get any woman he wanted, she alleged.
Players on the team were not much different, according to Cornelius.
Cornelius said she was later passed over for a promotion because team officials told her she would be a distraction in the training room, taking the focus away from the players.
“I have never felt more objectified in my life, and I still have nightmares,” Cornelius’ post continued.
She ultimately withdrew from Berkeley and said complaints to head football coach Justin Wilcox and athletic director Jim Knowlton were ignored.
“No response,” Cornelius wrote. “Why not? Because that’s the business.”
Messages sent to Knowlton and Wilcox early Thursday were not immediately returned. UC Berkeley’s athletic department has referred Cornelius’ allegations to its Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.
“We are aware of the very disturbing public allegations made on social media,” a statement released by Cal Athletics and obtained by The Post said. “These allegations go against the very core of our values. Cal Athletics is and will always be committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected.”
The statement continued: “While we can discuss our process for handling these matters, we generally cannot address any specific case. Allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment by campus employees are confidential unless officials determine policy is violated, and disciplinary action has been decided.”
Cornelius, meanwhile, told ESPN that she went public with her story in part due to the lack of response she received after emailing team officials last fall. The coach who allegedly threatened to fire Cornelius if she didn’t have sex with him no longer works with the program, a source told ESPN.
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