In this NBC News exclusive interview, “Today” host Katie Couric talks with Katie Hnida, a star high-school athlete who went on to play football for the University of Colorado. But from the beginning, Hnida says, she silently endured a nightmare — some players asked her for sex, others exposed themselves. Worst of all, in the summer of 2000 she says she was raped by a teammate. She first came forward with her story last February.
Couric: When your story broke, Coach Barnett, as you well know, held a press conference in which he said, "She was awful..."
Hnida: For me that was the Coach Barnett that I knew. That was the way that he had dealt with me throughout the year that I spent with him on his team. That was his disposition towards me.
Couric: But, it wasn't just questioning your athletic ability. He said you had kissed everybody on the team.
Couric: That you had done lap dances?
Hnida: Unbelievable things. I can handle him saying I'm a crappy kicker. I can handle him saying whatever he wants about me, you know, in the athletic arena. But, to attack my character, to attack who I am as a person is completely unacceptable, and I think it's despicable.
Gary Barnett was suspended for three months with pay after his comments, but he remains the team's head coach. His spokesperson told NBC News that "Coach Barnett and the team took extraordinary precautions to protect Katie and felt that the allegations, if true, were reprehensible." Barnett has publicly apologized for his insensitive remarks and denied any knowledge of Hnida's alleged rape.
Couric: Coach Barnett says that you complained to him once about a player, and he reprimanded that player. And, that was the only incident he was aware of.
Hnida: I find that hard to believe, because that incident that he reprimanded him for was actually the guy's calling me the "C" word. Later on, in a deposition by the president of the university, she said that it could actually be used as a term of endearment. And that was like a big fat slap across the face, because I could promise you he was not using that in an endearing way, and I don't know any woman who has ever used that in an endearing way.
Couric: Coach Barnett has not been fired, and he was recently, named "Big 12 Coach of the Year." Are you surprised that he was not held accountable?
Hnida: Everybody there is responsible for a little bit of it. Not everybody, because I think it is very, very important to mention that CU is an outstanding place. It's a shame that the actions of a few have had to drag everyone through the mud. There are a lot of very, very good people there.
Couric: The University of Colorado went on to win the Houston Bowl. Coach Barnett said the team had overcome a "campaign of adversity over the last year." Some press reports have referred to the University of Colorado football team as "The Comeback Team."
Hnida: Let me tell you something about coming back. It's sad that the women have gotten lost through all this, because I understand that those players had to face an awful lot of adversity, and the entire team was called "rapists," but it's a lot worse being raped than being called a rapist.
Since 1997, 10 women in all have accused Colorado football players of sexual assault, but no arrests have ever been made. An independent panel investigated the football program and its recruiting practices, and while it did find the team used sex and alcohol to lure recruits it also concluded that no one in the administration "knowingly sanctioned" it.
Couric: Despite the fact that some women have sued the university, you opted not to. Why?
Hnida: For me, I wouldn't get anything out of suing the university. There's no amount of money that's going to take away my pain, nor help my healing.
Couric: You would like an apology, though?
Hnida: Yeah. But to tell you the truth, I'm not holding my breath. Unless it is true and sincere, I don't want it. I just want changes. I want to see stuff different there. That is what I want.
In a statement released to NBC News, the University of Colorado says it has made "sweeping changes in athletics with the intention of fully integrating the department with academics and providing new oversight."