When former University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague abruptly resigned on Friday and details of the sexual harassment complaints that led to his departure began to leak, some loudly wondered if there were other shiver-inducing tales out there.
Not me. I knew there was another tale. It was mine.
It all erupted on Dec. 13, 2013. There was a going-away party for a university communications director who had resigned. As the Star Tribune’s University of Minnesota’s basketball writer, I attended, as did Teague, whom I had covered since his arrival in April 2012. I spoke with him in passing and eventually left. As I was walking out, Teague texted me and asked if I wanted to get a drink.
Cultivating sources is a critical part of a reporter’s job. Sometimes that crosses into social gatherings. Having a drink with a source is not at all unusual, and I didn’t feel being a woman compromised me because I was there solely for work purposes.
Since coming to the university, Teague had presented himself to the media as someone who was a good source and not afraid to get blunt. For a reporter, that was extremely valuable. After he arrived, and before Dec. 13, 2013, he and I had drinks five to seven times, all but one of those occasions in a group setting. I also attended several cocktail parties at his house. I was happy to have such a useful window into the program. We talked about basketball, coaches and his plans for the department.
So I agreed to have that drink. But this December night was different. Teague asked me about my longtime boyfriend, as he often did. My mistake was acknowledging that we had just broken up. The switch flipped. Suddenly, in a public and crowded bar, Teague tried to throw his arm around me. He poked my side. He pinched my hip. He grabbed at me. Stunned and mortified, I swatted his advances and firmly told him to stop. He didn’t.
“Don’t deny,” he said, “our chemistry.”
I told him that he was drastically off base, that my only intention in being there was as a reporter – to which he replied: “You’re all strictly business? Nothing else?”
I walked out. He followed me. I hailed a cab. He followed me in, grabbing at my arm and scooting closer and closer in the dark back cabin until I was pressed against the door. I told him to stop. I told him it was not OK. He laughed. When I reached my apartment, I vomited.
Later that night he texted: “Night strictly bitness.’’
The incident wasn’t the first with Teague.
When he first arrived at the university we would communicate via texts, mostly about athletics. But over time the tone of the messages slowly changed, particularly at night. He would pepper work talk with comments that at first felt weird and eventually unacceptable. Once, he called me “cute.” Another night, after I declined meeting for a drink, he asked me if I was wearing pajamas.
I brought my concerns to a work colleague, who suggested I downplay the remarks and keep things light.
But in the aftermath of Dec. 13, it got worse.
When I had to call Teague for a quote, he would often afterward say, “You owe me.” He suggested I travel with the Gophers summer caravan to “get more scoops.” He once asked if I was going to Dallas for the Final Four. When I replied that our newspaper was not covering it because of budget issues, he texted: “I have other options to get u there in style.’’ And when I declined to meet him if he suggested a drink he would text things like “R u pouting?” and “The colonel is coming after you.”
I stopped speaking to Teague unless it was absolutely necessary. When he wanted to get a drink, I told him I was busy. I avoided him as much as possible. Losing meaningful access to an athletic director isn’t a situation a college reporter wants to find herself in, but to me it was the best of all the bad options.
He noticed the change.
“Ur no fun anymore,” he texted.
“U seem obtuse.”
“Ur radio silent.”
“U think I’m gross.”
“Ur giving me a complex.”
“U hate me, I’m toxic.”
Unsure of what to do, I reached out to other women in the industry, including ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, who advised me to immediately alert my editors.
In April 2014 I did and later explained my experience to the human resources department in much more detail. I provided them with many of Teague’s text messages. After multiple meetings, the company provided me with an action plan that included a number of options: the company contacting Teague directly to demand that he cease the inappropriate behavior; contacting Teague’s superiors to inform them of his behavior; changing beats; or, at my suggestion, waiting to see if the behavior continued before taking action.
It was my decision to make and I chose what I believed was self-preservation. I didn’t want my career interrupted because of a powerful man’s misdeeds. Making a formal complaint could have resulted in me losing access at the university. It could have forced me to take another beat, perhaps out of sports; to change my career path in a way I never planned.
I was also concerned about how it would look were the information to get leaked. I carefully considered the editorializing and victim-shaming that goes on in such circumstances, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through that.
In the past year, we have barely spoken. He has not texted me since August 2014.
But as I reread his texts to me and the ones that were released Friday, I regret not doing more initially, especially now that I know Teague continued to harass women. At the time, I was still fairly green on my first real beat and, frankly, unprepared for something like this. I wasn’t bold enough in my reaction. Had all of this developed now, I might have handled it differently. That’s why, in light of the brave women who did step up, I decided to put my name behind my story in hopes that it will never happen again.
Friday’s accounts from the two nameless women harassed by Teague were a lot of things. They were vulgar. They were troubling. They were gross.
One thing they were not is something new. For me, it was more of the same, all over again.
EDITORS’ NOTE: In editing Rayno’s story, the Star Tribune confirmed key elements of Rayno’s account with a former human resources officer and by reviewing human resources documents related to the matter, including copies of text messages sent and received by Rayno.
Star Tribune editors on Sunday also sought reaction to Amelia Rayno’s account from former athletic director Norwood Teague and the University of Minnesota.
Teague did not respond.
Here is University President Eric Kaler’s response:
I am disappointed to learn of an additional report of sexual harassment against the former director of Gopher Athletics. Our commitment to ensuring a healthy learning, working and living environment at the University extends beyond our faculty, staff, and students. I deeply regret to now learn that a reporter covering the University was also subject to this type of deplorable behavior and I extend a sincere apology to Ms. Rayno.
The two reports that led to Friday’s resignation were the first of their kind to be reported to the University's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office and President's Office, and the University took swift action. With this latest report, we will look into whether any university employees who have a responsibility to report these kinds of concerns were aware of the incidents.
We take all reports of sexual harassment very seriously and we encourage anyone else who experienced such actions to come forward. They may remain anonymous by reporting through the UReport, our confidential reporting service at 1-866-294-8680 or online at ureport.ethicspoint.com.
Escape while you can!