Two distinct portraits of Greenberg

Boston University is currently conducting an internal investigation into claims that coach Kelly Greenberg bullied players. John Woike/Hartford Courant/MCT/Getty Images

Kristen Sims, a former Boston University women's basketball player, remembers how head coach Kelly Greenberg supported her unconditionally before and after her knee surgery, taking Sims to doctor's appointments and constantly checking in to see whether she needed anything.

Jacy Schulz, another former BU player, remembers the time she entered Greenberg's office and the coach placed a box of Kleenex on the desk to signal what was to come. "She said I was a waste of life, and that I should never have been born," Schulz told espnW.com.

Both Sims and Schulz speak with the conviction that comes from personal experience. This is exactly how it happened for me. And according to more than a dozen interviews conducted with former BU players, each of the above interactions reflects the dramatically divergent experiences of the young women who have played for Greenberg over the years.

Of the 16 players contacted by espnW.com, eight portrayed Greenberg as a caring, supportive coach, while the other eight -- four of whom are sharing their stories with the media for the first time -- described her as emotionally abusive and manipulative. In addition, espnW.com has obtained several letters and emails written to the Boston University administration by parents of former players, expressing concern about Greenberg's treatment of their daughters.

Collectively, these accounts raise questions about Greenberg's program and the emotional divide that apparently has existed within it.

On March 8, The Boston Globe released a story in which four players from the 2013-14 squad accused Greenberg of emotional bullying. All four accounts echoed those of former players who spoke with espnW.com and said they struggled with Greenberg, that she singled them out and repeatedly attacked their character.

"She didn't treat us like human beings at all," said Dana Theobald, telling the Globe why she left the team last October. The accusations come six years after a 2008 Globe story in which two players accused Greenberg of emotional abuse and bullying during the 2006-07 season.

Altogether, eight women have now stepped forward and attached their names to complaints against the coach, along with four former BU players who spoke with espnW.com after requesting anonymity.

The university is currently conducting an internal investigation into the most recent allegations, and a spokesman said BU expects to release its findings "within a few weeks." The 46-year-old Greenberg, who has led the program since 2004, is under contract through 2017. She has a 186-127 career coaching record at BU, second most in program history, including four 20-win seasons in the past seven years.

When asked for comment, Boston University spokesman Colin Riley referred espnW.com to a statement released on the school's website. "We take these allegations very seriously, and we will look into them promptly, thoroughly, and in an unbiased manner," said Todd Klipp, Boston University senior vice president, senior counsel and Board of Trustees secretary.

Greenberg's lawyer, Paul Kelly, shared this statement on her behalf: "Unfortunately, Coach Greenberg is unable to respond at this time to the allegations being made by a small group of former players. She is heartened by the showing of support from the overwhelming majority of approximately 150 student-athletes she has coached during her 24-year career. She has confidence that the review process currently underway at BU will be thorough and fair, and she is anxious to move past this very difficult time in a positive manner."

The four former players who asked for anonymity did so either because they work in the coaching profession or fear they might lose friendships. "The eight players who have put their names out there aren't the only ones," said one player who declined to be identified. "They speak for many more behind the scenes."

One former player willing to tell her story publicly is Michal Epstein, a native of Israel who now plays professionally in Tel Aviv. She transferred to BU from Providence College in 2003 and played for Greenberg in the fall of 2004, during the coach's first season in Boston. Epstein said she and Greenberg had a strong relationship during the opening weeks of the season, but after she performed poorly in an early-season game in Philadelphia, her interactions with Greenberg shifted dramatically when the team returned to Boston.

Epstein said she was called into the coach's office repeatedly and told she was "selfish" and a "disgrace to the program -- a nobody." She said Greenberg would bench her during practice and ignore her in public, and that the pattern continued for two months. Convinced she had no future on the team, the player returned home to Israel.

"She made me feel so small," Epstein said. "She is very clever and calculated in her behavior. She would make sure that all the worst things were said behind closed doors. She is pathological, and I firmly believe she should be banned from ever coaching again, or even working with young people."

Epstein said she avoided visiting Boston for nearly a decade because of lingering emotional issues. She provided espnW.com with a copy of the letter her parents sent to Boston University athletic director Mike Lynch. In the letter, dated Dec. 12, 2004, Elaine and Roger Epstein wrote: "We don't want to even go to the deeper and darker places to look for a 'reason' for Coach Greenberg's invalidating Michal and refusal to work with her. We and our daughter have felt helpless in the face of this blatantly purposeful behavior."

Yet numerous players describe their experience playing for Greenberg as positive. Since the recent Globe story broke, many former players, as well as parents and friends, have come forward to support her. They launched a website, www.realkellygreenberg.com, to give voice to what they see as the other side of the story. They have expressed shock over the allegations and paint a picture of a hard-nosed but caring coach who supported them at every turn, offering constructive criticism but never crossing the line.

"I could honestly go on and on about Kelly," said Sims, who graduated in 2013 and now lives in Virginia. "She taught me so many life lessons. It became my home away from home. She created an awesome, supportive environment."

At least three of the players now supporting Greenberg on that website have previously accused her of emotional abuse, according to letters and emails obtained by espnW.com. But these women remained with the program, graduated, and two of them have entered the coaching profession, aided by positive references from Greenberg.

"I am really surprised to see some of the people supporting her," said one former BU player, who requested anonymity. "They were abused and bullied for years; it's disturbing."

Boston University is not allowing current players to speak with the media, but a number of former players have praised Greenberg, including Danielle Callahan (class of 2014), Alex Young (2013), Kasie Carbacio (2012), Kristi Dini (2009), Rachael Vanderwal (2006) and Adrienne Norris Mugar (2005). "She created a culture of hard work and fun," Callahan said. "I feel sick to my stomach seeing such harsh words said about Kelly. We want people to hear the experiences we've had. I can say wholeheartedly that she wants the best for every one of her players."

Norris Mugar said Greenberg is extremely thoughtful and fosters a sense of community among BU alumni. "The Kelly Greenberg I know is someone who cares deeply for her team," she said. "She's the type of person you want to be around."

Added Young: "We're all trying to rally behind Coach and get the truth out."

But as more players speak up, two distinct portraits emerge. Nikki Tamanosky played for Boston University as a freshman in 2011-12, and the experience she describes sounds similar to Epstein's seven years earlier. Tamanosky told espnW.com that she initially had a strong relationship with Greenberg, but everything changed just a few weeks into the season, for reasons Tamanosky can't explain. She said she was repeatedly called into closed-door meetings with Greenberg and the assistant coaches, where she was personally attacked and told she was "a horrible teammate and a disgrace to the program," as well as "too shy and backward to get anywhere in life."

Tamanosky said Greenberg and assistant Mike Leflar would push her to exhaustion in individual workouts, then mockingly ask, "You going to quit yet? You going to quit?" But during team practices, Greenberg would keep her on the sideline and rarely include her in drills.

"The hardest part is that I can't prove the extent of what happened to me because she made sure none of my teammates were around," said Tamanosky, who now plays at Bloomsburg University. "People don't know what it's like to experience this side of her. I've had time to process what happened, and I can say with conviction that this was abuse. She is harming young women who are just coming into their own."

The behavior in question allegedly stretches back to Greenberg's tenure as head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, from 1999 to 2004. "Personally, I had no problem with her," said one of her former players at Penn, who requested anonymity. "But every year, she would randomly make one player's life a living hell."

One former BU player remembers being called into a closed-door meeting and told by Greenberg that she was "a terrible person, worthless," because an injury was keeping her out of practice. Two players said they received bullet-point lists from Greenberg about perceived flaws in their characters or bodies. The coach allegedly wrote that one player had a "vanilla personality," while telling another she was "boring and stupid." Tamanosky said she was told her skin was too pale and that she needed to go tanning. (She subsequently did.) Another player said Greenberg told her, "You look sick; you're too white. It's disgusting." And another player was allegedly told she had an irritating personality and blew her nose too loudly.

Players voicing support for Greenberg have suggested that the difference in perspectives is simply the result of varying levels of toughness and tolerance -- that perhaps some people just aren't cut out for the rigors of college hoops. "There are times as a coach, as a leader, when you need to be tough on people," said Carbacio, who was a team captain in 2012. "We certainly had the normal hiccups and situations that I'm sure happen on every college team around the country. But if you can't take that kind of constructive criticism, you're not going to make it in life. And that's what Kelly gave -- constructive criticism."

But a number of former players told espnW.com that Greenberg's behavior toward them crossed the line, from constructive to destructive, and the interactions usually happened behind closed doors. "When you're 17 or 18 years old and haven't yet fully developed your sense of self, and the main adult mentor in your life is telling you you're worthless, that's not about being weak, that's about not being old enough yet to know not to listen," said one former BU player who has never before shared her account with the media.

None of the players accusing Greenberg of emotional abuse could identify a common link among the individuals she allegedly singled out. Some were potential starters and key contributors, confident and strong; others were bench players, battling injuries, more emotionally sensitive. But the players said they believe Greenberg's behavior was about power, and that the problems escalated when the team was struggling on the court. The two times these issues have surfaced publicly -- this season, when the Terriers were 13-20, and after the 2006-07 season, when they were 15-15 -- also coincide with the program's lowest win totals in the past nine seasons.

Following the 2006-07 season, every player on the roster, with one exception, went to Lynch to discuss the abuse they were allegedly enduring under Greenberg. (Aly Hinton, whose family has Philly ties with Greenberg, did not attend the meeting.) One player in particular was said to be absorbing most of Greenberg's negative attention: freshman Jacy Schulz, who left the school and transferred to Niagara University. According to three different members of that Boston team, every player in the meeting spoke up, and at least two players supplied Lynch with what they said were abusive letters Greenberg had written to them.

"We held hands and walked into that office together, and every single person spoke in that meeting," one player recalled to espnW.com. "The way I see it, we've already spoken up once, so why wasn't anything done? Who protected us then? And who's to say if we speak up now anything will even change?"

Another former player added: "We honestly thought she was going to be fired. The feedback we got from Mike Lynch was that it was a serious matter and the situation would change. And then, a few days later, it just switched, and we didn't know why."

After that first inquiry in 2007, Lynch decided that Greenberg and her players should participate in counseling together. But before the first session, according to two members of that team, Greenberg and the counselor walked into the room together laughing and joking as if they were friends. "I remember we waited for Coach Greenberg in the locker room, and when she walked in with the counselor, laughing, our impression was, 'We're screwed,'" said a player from that team. "Those sessions ended with Coach saying we were spoiled brats, and then we were punished every day in spring workouts."

Three other members of the team who attended those sessions describe them as unproductive, with the coaches insisting they had been betrayed and the players feeling exposed.

Several former players have mentioned Greenberg's network of friends and colleagues in the athletic department and her ability to get buy-in from players. "She has always done a nice job of casting a web and getting certain people to believe in how awesome she is," said one player. "She convinces most people around her that she is fabulous, so that the bullied person feels even weaker."

Kelly Greenberg is a fantastic coach who molds young women into strong adults.

Kelly Greenberg is a destructive coach who emotionally abuses vulnerable young women.

On the surface, the two depictions seem impossible to reconcile. But as the Boston University administration searches for answers, a number of former players have made the point that one person's good experience does not negate someone else's nightmare. Several of the players who believe Greenberg mistreated them said they were aware that many of their teammates had more positive dealings with the coach, almost as if they were talking about a different person.

"If you were one of her favorites, your life was gold," said Schulz, now in medical school at the University of Toledo. "But if you were on the blacklist, if she just didn't like you, she tried to destroy you."

Cindy Schulz, Jacy's mother, wrote numerous letters to the Boston University administration, expressing concern about Greenberg.

"She does not bully everyone," Cindy Schulz told espnW.com. "There is a Kelly Greenberg who has been a positive influence on players. But there is also the other side of Kelly Greenberg, the one who targets a small group of players, and that person is very destructive. All the good she has done for some does not excuse the pain she has caused others."