Several members of the University of Wisconsin women’s tennis team have come forward to The Badger Herald illuminating issues with the team’s head coach, saying his actions have put the players’ health at risk.
According to phone interviews with four players, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, head coach Brian Fleishman places strict limitations on what they eat and how they train, which has forced several girls to surrender to unhealthy lifestyles.
“Honestly, we’re controlled through fear, which is a coaching mechanism that a lot of coaches can implement successfully, but the bigger issue here is that it has been decided on our team that [Fleishman] has issues with food,” one of the women said.
According to several members of the team, Fleishman has instilled fear into his players, which has afflicted serious physical and mental damage on many of them. Through his behavior, certain players have battled with anorexia because of Fleishman’s constant focus on their diets.
Associate Athletic Director Justin Doherty said the athletic department was not aware of the situation and that every head coach goes through a rigorous review process each year by senior members of the athletic department. He also reiterated the university’s commitment to its athletes’ safety.
“The welfare of student athletes is and always will be one of our most top priorities,” Doherty said. “That remains to this point.”
The players say several team members have sought out psychological treatment to heal the wounds inflicted on them and that players have started taking antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications due to the stressful environment created by Fleishman.
One member of the team remembers watching a teammate deteriorate right before her eyes.
“I saw emotionally how her relationship with Brian took a toll on her,” she said. “She started getting anxiety attacks after he sent her an email that her game wasn’t up to par. He threatened that she had to do a lot of extra workouts and from that she got an eating disorder, she became bulimic and got worse and worse throughout the year.”
According to several members of the team, in addition to players, Fleishman’s actions have affected assistant coach Audra Cohen.
Members of the team approached Cohen after they had noticed a change in her health and appearance.
“She was going through a very difficult time dealing with how Brian was running the program,” one player said.
Cohen declined to comment on the matter.
Several players believe Fleishman himself has an eating disorder. They say he is “obsessed with working out” and that he won’t eat in front of the team on road trips. They insist, because they are around the coach and his lifestyle on a daily basis, that his eating habits are forced on the team.
“He’s always looking for someone to put in his doghouse,” one player said. “There was never a time when he wasn’t trying to go after an individual.”
The players say they are afraid to reach out to university officials in fear they might lose their scholarships, especially because Fleishman has demonstrated that he is not afraid to dismiss players from the team.
According to one player, Fleishman kicked a player off the team for failing to cheer on a teammate and that Fleishman has revoked another player’s scholarship for failing to pass a fitness test.
“We were devastated that we were losing part of our team,” one player said. “We did not talk about it to Brian because he’s very unapproachable. … We didn’t have a whole team meeting about it, but the general consensus was we weren’t happy.”
“In most programs, you’re told when you’re recruited that the only way you lose your scholarship is by breaking a serious rule in terms of stealing, drugs, doing something illegal,” another member of the team said. “But he’s created a rule called ‘the zero tolerance policy’ that can get anyone off the team in a second, and in this fearful environment, he has 100 percent control over everything we do on a daily basis.”
Players say the situation became so ridiculous that one player created a comic book for her teammates depicting the lifestyle Fleishman leads.
The comic, which ends with Fleishman’s daily itinerary titled “Brian’s Schedule,” includes Fleishman’s many “policies,” his controlled lifestyle and the way he “yells” at certain members of the team on a regular basis. The comic also included satirical meal suggestions given to the players, such as “three pieces of lettuce.”
The creator of the comic recounted how Fleishman had once talked to one of her teammates.
“He actually commented to her about her weight and threatened her with it. He used anything that he saw her eat against her in the future when she’d lose her matches.”
Fleishman has been head coach at Wisconsin for four years. Prior to being hired at UW in 2007, he was head coach at Wake Forest from 1999 to 2005. He coached four individual national champions there and was named the 2000 ACC coach of the year, 2002 Wilson/ITA national coach of the year and the 2011 Big Ten co-coach of the year. Fleishman resigned from his position at Wake Forest in 2005.
Kyle Gibson, one of the team’s trainers, declined to comment on this matter due to confidentiality laws. Several calls made Wednesday to Fleishman were not returned.