Westerns women’s basketball update

Written by: Liberty Miller | Lifestyle Editor

The Howl previously covered the cancellation of the Western women’s basketball season. The article covered allegations of abuse and harassment from players at Western and also Salem University, where head coach Jessica Peatross and assistant coach Demetrius “DJ” Marlow led the women’s basketball program during the 2022-23 season. Following a legal investigation prompted by the athletic department, the administration has chosen to remove the coaches from administrative leave and reinstate both Peatross and Marlow for the 2024-25 season.

In the previous article, one anonymous source from the Western women’s basketball team went into depth on alleged National Collegiate Athletic Association — NCAA — violations, verbal abuse, sexually charged comments and a season-ending injury possibly caused by assistant Coach DJ Marlow. Multiple players from Salem University and another NCAA Division Two university located in West Virginia came forward to speak about their alleged experiences with Coaches Peatross and Marlow as well — many of the allegations followed similar patterns of verbal abuse, neglect, inappropriate behavior and a lack of response from their athletic administration. 

While the coaches have been on paid administrative leave since February, an investigation was initiated, though it is unclear who exactly hired the firm. The law firm, by the name of Littler Mendelson, specializes in employer clients and conducted the believed-to-be unbiased third-party investigation. The spokesperson for the firm released a statement saying that “the allegations against the coaches were not sustained.” The coaches were officially reinstated following the conclusion of this investigation. The Western women’s basketball players were then offered the option of entering the transfer portal, but in order to stay on the team they would need to meet with Coach Peatross individually.

The season cancellation caught the attention of sports commentator and Instagram personality Timothy Martin, who regularly posts content related to the NCAA and professional sports. Following the release of our previous article, Martin posted an update that garnered over four hundred thousand views. We reached out to Martin about the reinstatement of Peatross and Marlow, to which he said, “Based on the situations and stories from former athletes and those associated with the team — it’s shocking from an outsider’s perspective like myself to hear the results of the investigation from the university. For a Collegiate season to be cut short and nothing come of the investigation seems very odd. I’m an outsider and have no association with the university, but have been following this situation since it was announced over a month ago and honestly have more questions now than I did when the investigation started.” 

Derek Holdsworth is a Western track and field and cross-country alumni and current head coach of Growing Runners Track Club, a youth track club in Williamsburg, Virginia. During his time at Western, he broke the all-time Western record and all-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) record for the 800-meter run. Holdsworth has been keeping tabs on the status of the women’s basketball team after hearing the news about the season cancellation. “I always felt safe at (Western) with my coaches and staff around me, so it’s incredibly disappointing to hear that not only do students feel uncomfortable with their current coaches but their coaches lied about their experience to get the current positions that they have. It’s frustrating to hear this as someone who’s currently in search of a career outside of my athletic pursuits. I know the staff at WOU has the ability to do what’s best for their student-athletes, they just might need a little push,” Holdsworth stated. 

Multiple faculty and staff members at Western have expressed discontent with the decisions made by the athletic administration, but out of fear for their job security and safety, have declined to comment. One Western faculty member spoken to agreed to have their quote released under the condition that they remain anonymous. “I’ve worked with dozens of student-athletes in my time at WOU. Generally, this group of people doesn’t complain unless there are real problems. They are used to grueling schedules, high demands and hard work. They put up with a lot. Then they do it again the next day. It’s inconceivable to me that these students are being silenced and ignored. There needs to be better leadership from both athletics and WOU administrators. The least powerful and least protected people are essentially being told they don’t matter. That’s not what WOU represents.” 

Another faculty member also shared their opinion on the outlook of recruiting future athletes – “reinstatement of the women’s basketball coaching staff is a clear indicator of the absence of any wrongdoing. Recent history of the administration’s mismanagement of the situation can have detrimental consequences for recruiting down the line.”

An anonymous source from Salem University, who contributed to the previous article as one of the players in Peatross and Marlow’s 2022-2023 program, made a second statement to the Howl. “Honestly, I think it’s crazy. It just shows how bad the outside world doesn’t pay attention to athletes calling and seeking out help. In this world especially as college athletes, athletes in general — we overlook our mental health and in this situation, the staff at WOU overlooked theirs. I just hope that both coaches find it in their hearts to start off with a clean slate and allow the girls to come back and play. That school is their home.” This source was instrumental in gathering information and sources of all different opinions from Salem University.

Contact the author at howllifestyle@wou.edu