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Four soccer players sue Butler for alleged sexual assault by trainer

Butler University campus green in Indianapolis. (Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Four former Butler women’s soccer players are suing the university for alleged sexual assault by an athletic trainer while they played for the team.

The lawsuits allege a culture in which trainer Michael Howell “was close with one of the team’s coaches” and “wielded influence over athletes’ treatment and playing time,” according to a report in The Athletic. Howell allegedly often exposed players’ intimate body parts during massages, an occurrence players nicknamed “the breeze.”

The first three lawsuits were filed against Butler in U.S. district court in Indianapolis in July, with the fourth filed last week. They are suing the school, athletic director Ralph Reiff and Howell for negligence, battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The fourth woman, identified as Jane Doe 4, said that Howell rubbed his erect penis on her hand and touched her breasts, labia and groin, in addition to pressing his groin against her buttocks.

The woman also alleges Howell gave players treatment in his and their personal hotel rooms in the spring of 2021 during a tournament in Rhode Island. He required some players to take ice baths in his room, indicating “this was non-negotiable.”

A Title IX investigation, in which a panel of outside attorneys presided over a five-day hearing, found that Howell had “sexually assaulted and harassed” players on the team.

Butler said it removed Howell from campus and suspended him after learning of his alleged misconduct in September 2021. He was fired in 2022.

“After a thorough investigation and hearing, the trainer was found responsible for violating university policies, and he was then terminated in summer 2022,” the university said in a statement. “Butler looks forward to the opportunity to show the high integrity and responsiveness of the coaches and senior personnel. Because the complaints do not name the plaintiffs and they have not waived federal student privacy protections, Butler is limited from further comment outside of the legal process.”

An attorney for Howell told The Athletic that Howell “flatly denies the claims in these lawsuits.”