If you thought Colorado football recruiting parties were jailbreaks, brace yourself for the allegations made by the only woman ever to play on the team.
As a CU placekicker in 1999, Katie Hnida says she endured a kind of sexual hell you can't imagine. After being verbally abused and molested by teammates, Hnida says, she was raped by one of them.
An honor-roll student, a homecoming queen and an honorable mention all-county kicker at Littleton ( Colo.) Chatfield High, Hnida (NYE-da) had dreamed of booting for Colorado. "Football is what makes me breathe," she says. Then-coach Rick Neuheisel invited her to walk on, she accepted and then he took off, leaving her in new coach Gary Barnett's hands. "None of the players wanted her on the team," Barnett remembers. "Basically we were doing her a favor."
On her first day of practice Hnida found out how welcome she was. She says five teammates surrounded her and verbally abused her, making sexually graphic comments. During the season players exposed themselves to her "at least five times," she says. "They'd go, 'Hey, Katie, check this out!' " One player came up from behind, she says, and rubbed his erect penis against her.
Sometimes when the entire team was huddled up, Hnida says, players stuck their hands on her crotch or groped her breasts under her shoulder pads. "She endured more abuse than one person should have to bear," former teammate Justin Bates says. Even as she practiced, players called her vulgar names and one fired footballs at her head.
Why didn't she tell Barnett? "Because I was terrified," she says. "He didn't want me around in the first place. I thought for sure he'd kick me off [the team]."
The worst was yet to come. One summer night Hnida was watching TV at the house of a teammate. "He just starts to kiss me," she recalls. "I told him, 'That's not O.K.' Next thing I know he's on top of me. I told him, 'No!' But he just kept going, 'Shhhhh.' I tried to push him off me, but he outweighed me by 100 pounds." Hnida says he lifted her skirt, pushed aside her panties and penetrated her. She was a virgin. The phone rang, he reached for it, she slipped out from under him and ran.
Why didn't she go to the police? "I was so scared of what he might do to me," she says. "And I didn't want a huge media mess. I was already carrying around so much inside me, I was numb."
Just before the start of the 2000 season, it was clear that Hnida, sick with tonsillitis, was not going to make the roster. She says she fell into "the darkest of dark places."
Worried for his daughter after she had finally told him about some of her hell (but not the rape), Maj. Dave Hnida, an Army surgeon currently stationed in Iraq, went to athletic director Dick Tharp and Barnett about "the cornering, the groping, the name-calling and the football-at-the-head thing," Katie's father says. He got nowhere. "Talking to Barnett was like talking to a wall."