The mother of a former Canisius College basketball player who died by suicide is blaming the school’s women’s basketball coaches for subjecting her daughter to “brutal and relentless” mistreatment that ultimately led to her daughter’s death, according to a lawsuit against Canisius College filed in State Supreme Court in Erie County.
In her lawsuit, Felice McGhie says that former head coach Scott Hemer and former assistant coach Christina “Jazz” Weaver singled out Tiffany McGhie and at least one other freshman team member for “verbal abuse, hazing and bullying” throughout the 2019-20 season. Coaching staff are accused of “screaming at her and ganging up on her” during practice and encouraging McGhie’s teammates to do the same.
A then-senior player quit the team in protest and reported her concerns to a Canisius administrator in early 2020, according to the suit. Canisius reportedly “took no action” based on those reports. The then-senior was “summoned to a meeting with Coach Hemer” and “threatened with the loss of her athletic scholarship.”
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McGhie returned to the team for the 2020-21 season. She didn’t play in a game that season, despite competing in 17 her freshman year.
The suit claims that, in early October 2020, “Coach Hemer singled out McGhie and pitted the other team members against her” before telling the forward from Brooklyn that she was “off the team until she met with a psychiatrist.” That left McGhie “desperate and distraught” that she might lose her full athletic scholarship, which she depended on to attend Canisius.
Some male athletes who had graduated “would stick around and prey on new freshmen athletes at team parties,” according to the lawsuit.
Weeks later, the suit says, McGhie was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit at Erie County Medical Center. “She suffered the trauma of being forcibly restrained [by] Canisius College campus security officers,” the lawsuit said.
She remained there for two-and-a-half months before being transferred to another mental health facility, and then was released into outpatient care. She died by suicide in June 2021.
“Canisius places the safety and wellbeing of our students as a priority and refutes all the allegations in the complaint,” a Canisius spokesperson said in a statement. “We will have no further comment while the matter is in active litigation.”
Neither Hemer nor Weaver was named as a defendant in the case. The suit instead charges that Canisius either “failed to adequately investigate” Hemer and Weaver before hiring them or “ignored information concerning their history of inappropriate, offensive, abusive, bullying and harassing conduct toward student-athletes.” The suit does not specify what information Canisius reportedly ignored.
Brian Melber, the attorney for the McGhie family, did not respond to requests for comment. .
Hemer served as head coach of the Canisius women’s basketball team from 2018 to 2021 after six seasons as head coach at Genesee Community College and 11 seasons as head coach at SUNY Geneseo. Hemer announced his immediate retirement in June 2021, three weeks after McGhie’s death, due to “personal health reasons,” according to a Canisius press release.
Weaver left Canisius for Northeastern University in 2021 before taking a position as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Appalachian State University in 2022, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Three former Canisius College track and field athletes can proceed with their sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the college, a federal judge has ruled, but most of their claims against the team’s coach and also the college’s athletic director were dismissed.
The McGhies aren’t the first to file lawsuits against Canisius College in recent years. In 2021, three former Canisius track and field athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the school for sex discrimination and retaliation. They say that Canisius did nothing to address the program’s reportedly “toxic” culture of sexual assault or to investigate a male member of the cross country and track teams, who they say sexually assaulted each of them between 2016 and 2018. That male athlete is also a defendant in the suit. Those former student-athletes are also represented by Melber, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Canisius. Canisius has denied wrongdoing in the case.
If you are in crisis, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or 211 if you’re located in Western New York.