In responses to an nameless survey of the University of Michigan males’s hockey program’s gamers and employees, coach Mel Pearson was accused of telling gamers to supply false info on COVID contact-tracing kinds, of deceptive recruits about how a lot scholarship cash they might obtain, and of allegedly calling one participant a “Jew.” Pearson additionally displayed an “inability or unwillingness” to carry the staff’s director of hockey operations accountable for conduct that included the “mistreatment of female staff members,” in accordance with a separate investigative report.

In the survey and the investigative report, the latter of which was compiled on the behest of the college by legislation agency WilmerHale, a number of people stated that they believed that Pearson compelled Strauss Mann, a 2021 staff captain and beginning goaltender, to depart this system. A abstract of the survey acknowledged that a number of respondents believed Mann was ousted in “retaliation for trying to address and improve the team’s culture.” At least three athletic division staff additionally shared that viewpoint with WilmerHale investigators, who of their findings wrote that they didn’t discover Pearson’s account of his interactions with Mann credible.

Both the abstract and the WilmerHale report additionally state that gamers and employees anxious they might face retribution in the event that they spoke out about wrongdoing.

Pearson didn’t reply to a number of calls, textual content messages and emails despatched to him on Monday. An try to succeed in him via his spouse was additionally unsuccessful. Kurt Svoboda, an athletic division spokesman, stated he notified Pearson that The Athletic was trying to succeed in him for remark for this story.

Pearson instructed WilmerHale investigators that he had “no role” in instructing gamers on how you can fill out their well being kinds, “never witnessed (director of hockey operations Rick Bancroft) mistreat female employees at Michigan,” and that Mann’s departure from this system had “nothing to do with any friction” between them. Some of the allegations within the survey, akin to calling a participant a “Jew” and deceptive recruits about scholarship cash, should not addressed within the WilmerHale report. In February, when asked about the WilmerHale probe by The Michigan Daily, Pearson stated: “I feel very confident that the allegations will be proved wrong.”

On Monday, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel didn’t reply to a name, a textual content message and an e-mail searching for remark. The Athletic shared the allegations on this story with Svoboda, who stated he would move that info alongside to Manuel. Svoboda responded later: “We are unable to comment on personnel matters.” He made clear that his response coated solely Manuel, not Pearson.

The abstract of the responses from the nameless survey of hockey employees and gamers is dated June 8, 2021. The investigative report by WilmerHale is dated May 5, 2022. The nameless survey, in accordance with two individuals who spoke to WilmerHale investigators, was administered “because no one was willing to speak on the record about issues in the hockey program, including gender discrimination concerns, for fear of retaliation,” the report states. The WilmerHale probe was prompted by complaints made by Steve Shields, the staff’s former director of participant growth. Shields performed 10 seasons within the NHL and was a goaltender at Michigan from 1990-94, when Pearson was an assistant coach. Shields was additionally a goalie coach at Michigan Tech from 2011-13, serving underneath Pearson, the pinnacle coach. Shields was a volunteer goalie coach at Michigan from 2015-17, after which transitioned into participant growth underneath Pearson, who was employed earlier than the 2017-18 season.

In September 2021, Shields filed a grievance to Michigan’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office. According to the WilmerHale report, Shields alleged within the grievance that he was terminated from his volunteer place in retaliation for reporting various considerations about how Pearson ran this system. (Shields declined to remark for this story.)

The WilmerHale report spans 68 pages and consists of interviews with 16 people. The investigation was “relatively narrow” in scope, in accordance with the report; the agency was “not tasked with conducting a comprehensive culture review of the program” however relatively figuring out whether or not Shields was retaliated towards for elevating considerations about conduct that violated the college’s coverage on sexual and gender-based misconduct.

Investigators concluded that Pearson “did not take adverse action against (Shields) for raising concerns” coated by that coverage. However, the report acknowledged “concerns about the culture and operation of the men’s hockey program,” including: “We identified multiple instances in which team leadership acted unprofessionally especially in interactions with female staff members and in treatment of student athletes.”

At the tip of its investigative report, WilmerHale suggested that the college deal with:

  • The “mistreatment of female staff members” by Bancroft, who had been at Michigan since 1991 and was named the staff’s director of hockey operations in 2018. (Bancroft retired June 20.)
  • Pearson’s “inability or unwillingness to hold Bancroft accountable for his conduct.”
  • “Pervasive fears among both student athletes and staff members of retaliation by (Pearson) for raising issues.”
  • “Inconsistencies in (Pearson’s) recollection, perception, and/or characterization of key incidents and issues as compared with other participants.”

Bancroft didn’t reply to a number of calls, textual content messages and emails however instructed WilmerHare investigators he “was not aware of any incidents involving the mistreatment” of the feminine employees members recognized by Shields.

A abstract of the college survey — which was seen by The Athletic — states that 32.4 p.c of respondents reported not feeling “respected and treated fairly” by Pearson; 31.3 p.c indicated they “personally experienced offensive, intimidating, discriminatory or harassing conduct,” and 37.5 p.c indicated that they noticed that sort of conduct directed towards one other individual or group inside Michigan’s hockey program. The abstract states that 34 individuals participated within the survey and “overall, more survey responses described the culture negatively than positively.”

According to the survey abstract, a number of respondents reported that Pearson would “berate” and “belittle” and “publicly embarrass” employees members, in addition to “single out players and yell inappropriate comments” at them, together with, in a single occasion, calling a participant (whose title was redacted) a “Jew.” Multiple survey respondents additionally “expressed distress that Coach Pearson pressured players not to see their families over the holidays and instead made them meet as a team for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but did not show up to meet with the team.”

Some responses within the survey indicated that Pearson misleads “recruits about the scholarship money they will receive, pushes players off the team each year by telling them they will not have a spot on the team, and then lies to the team about why the players left.” According to the WilmerHale report, some senior gamers instructed a program administrator that Pearson “would dock playing time” of those that complained.


Shields instructed investigators that on March 26, 2021, two gamers on the NCAA hockey match referred to as him and stated they’d been instructed by Pearson “to provide false information on their COVID contact-tracing forms.” (A roommate and teammate of the 2 gamers examined optimistic for COVID earlier than the staff’s departure for the match.) The staff later needed to withdraw from the occasion due to COVID-related considerations.

According to WilmerHale’s report, the University of Michigan Police Department (UMPD) investigated a tip from an nameless feminine caller who instructed police that Pearson had compelled gamers to lie on COVID contract-tracing kinds. (A Freedom of Information Act request for the UMPD report was denied by the college.) UMPD interviewed a number of college officers, together with Pearson, in addition to Washtenaw County medical director Juan Marquez, in accordance with the WilmerHale report, and all had “indicated that the hockey program had followed proper COVID protocols.” The WilmerHale report didn’t point out whether or not UMPD spoke to any gamers earlier than closing the investigation; it additionally states that the allegation about whether or not or not gamers have been instructed to supply false info on COVID contact-tracing kinds didn’t fall underneath the scope of its investigation.

Manuel instructed investigators that the athletic division “could not corroborate the allegations.” But within the survey, carried out roughly seven weeks after Michigan’s exit from the match, “multiple respondents reported that Coach Pearson directed players to lie on health forms and to NCAA personnel at the NCAA tournament about whether they had close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID, which upset and scared them,” in accordance with the abstract.

The abstract of the survey was shared with Manuel and different staff from the athletic division, human assets and the college’s Office for Institutional Equity in June 2021.

Both the survey abstract and the WilmerHale report reference mistreatment of staffers, notably girls. The WilmerHale report states that “multiple University administrators described receiving reports, not just from (Shields), of inequitable treatment of female employees associated with the program.”

In the survey abstract, Bancroft is described as “toxic,” “rude” and “unprofessional.” Bancroft’s habits was “an awful representation of our program to outsiders,” in accordance with one respondent. Shields instructed WilmerHale investigators that Bancroft was a “bully, in general, for a lot of people, but noted that Bancroft’s behavior was ‘directed way more at females than males’,” Equipment supervisor Ian Hume instructed investigators he witnessed Bancroft mistreat different employees members, together with however not restricted to girls. Hume believed the remedy was not primarily based on gender, however as a substitute directed at employees members that Bancroft views as “less significant than he is.” Kristy McNeil, affiliate director of exterior relations, instructed investigators that Pearson and Bancroft discriminated towards her due to her gender, “belittling her, preventing her from entering the hockey locker room and excluding her from team activities and meals.”

McNeil declined to remark when reached by The Athletic. Hume stated on Monday: “I don’t think Mel is anti-female, but the thing that bothered me is that Bancroft was allowed to be … a bully, especially to female staff. I just thought that wasn’t right.”

Shields instructed investigators he was conscious of three feminine staff Bancroft allegedly mistreated. Shields additionally testified that he introduced up Bancroft’s habits with Pearson however stated Pearson responded: “I don’t want to f—ing hear it.” Pearson instructed investigators he recalled having a dialog with Shields solely about Bancroft being “rude” to a feminine resort staffer however added that Bancroft “had been reprimanded on a couple of occasions in regard to his behavior.”


Pearson’s dealing with of Strauss Mann, a 2021 staff captain, figured prominently in each the survey abstract and the WilmerHale report. Mann didn’t take part within the WilmerHale investigation, the report states, however a number of people spoke about his state of affairs, which unfolded shortly after the staff returned from the 2021 NCAA males’s hockey match. Additionally, WilmerHale obtained notes that Mann saved from that point, which investigators received from an athletic division worker. (Mann, in a textual content message, declined to remark.)

According to the WilmerHale report: Shields acquired a name from Mann on March 28 that Pearson was “acting erratically, and making statements on the phone to (Mann) that made him feel unsafe.” Mann instructed Shields that he was being “slandered” by Pearson and that Pearson was “telling people outside Michigan Hockey that (Mann) was attempting to have him fired.”

Shields then referred to as hockey program administrator Josh Richelew to tell him of the state of affairs. Around the identical time, Pearson referred to as Richelew and “told him (Mann) was trying to get (Pearson) fired.” Richelew instructed investigators he tried to get Pearson to “calm down.”

Mann met with Pearson on April 2, 2021. During that assembly, Mann raised considerations about the best way Pearson ran the hockey program, citing problems with “respect” and that by the tip of the assembly each Mann and Pearson turned “upset,” in accordance with the testimony of Evan Hall, a video coach requested to take a seat in on the assembly. Mann’s notes state that Pearson “indicated that (Mann) was no longer welcome in the hockey program.” Hall instructed investigators that Pearson stated Mann was welcome to return however would wish to earn again the belief of his teammates and should not have the identical management position or taking part in time as he did beforehand. Hall’s notes from the assembly acknowledged that Mann “felt like he wasn’t welcome back and if he did (return), he wouldn’t play.”

Hall didn’t reply to a number of requests searching for remark.

The following day, on April 3, Mann met with Elizabeth Heinrich, an affiliate athletic director, and Richelew. Mann instructed them that he heard that Pearson was calling alumni within the hockey group and telling them he was attempting to get Pearson fired. Two days after that assembly, Mann emailed Heinrich and Richelew and stated he wished to retract his statements and his notes about retaliation.

“Mann was afraid that (Pearson) would retaliate against him and damage his professional opportunities,” Richelew instructed investigators. Heinrich instructed investigators she “absolutely” thought Mann “left the hockey program because of a conflict with (Pearson) and that she wishes the athletic department had done more to support (Mann).” Heinrich stated she believed “pressure from coaching staff to stop raising concerns prompted Mr. Mann to retract his complaints about (Pearson).”

Heinrich and Richelew didn’t reply to requests searching for remark.

Pearson instructed investigators that Mann’s determination to depart this system had “nothing to do with any friction between (him) and Mann” and that he didn’t really feel Mann was attempting to undermine him or take away him because the coach. But requested later whether or not he instructed alumni, brokers or anybody related to this system that Mann was attempting to get him fired, Pearson “stated that he does not recall” earlier than including “he might have said something at some point.”

On April 30, Mann introduced by way of Twitter he was leaving Michigan to signal an expert contract to play abroad. (Mann was on the U.S. 2022 Olympic staff and the 2022 World Championships staff; he signed a one-year cope with the San Jose Sharks this spring.)

Mann’s departure didn’t finish the matter. On May 3, McNeil, the affiliate director of exterior relations, contacted human assets director Tiffany Raymond to “report that (Pearson) had retaliated against (Mann).” (Raymond didn’t reply to requests for remark.) On May 5, Shields despatched an e-mail to Manuel alerting him to potential retaliation towards Mann. According to the WilmerHale report, Manuel “responded the next day, informing (Shields) that he was aware of the retaliation allegations, was taking them seriously, and had asked his staff to look into the matter.”

On May 12, Shields met with Pearson they usually mentioned Mann’s remedy and departure. Pearson initially denied to WilmerHale investigators that they mentioned Mann’s state of affairs at that assembly. A month later, investigators confronted Pearson with a recording that Shields product of that dialog, and Pearson conceded that they’d mentioned Mann.

Manuel, the athletic director, testified that he confronted Pearson concerning the allegations of retaliation however that he “never felt (Pearson) was retaliating against (Mann)’” and that Mann left the college “on his own.” But that perception was not shared by a number of the gamers and staffers who participated within the survey. “Several responses noted that Coach Pearson recently removed Strauss Mann, the former team captain and starting goaltender, from the team in retaliation,” the abstract reads.

Further, a piece of the WilmerHale report titled “Analysis of Evidence and Findings” states: “We do not find (Pearson’s) account of his interactions with and regarding Mr. Mann around April 2021 credible. . . At the very least, the evidence is clear that Mr. Mann believed his status with the hockey program was in serious jeopardy because of friction with (Pearson).”

The Mann expertise had a chilling impact on others throughout the program in accordance with the report. Richelew instructed investigators “that (Mann’s) experience raising concerns to (Pearson) made other members of the hockey team ‘afraid of the consequences’ if they ‘came forward.’”


Strauss Mann taking part in for Michigan in 2021. (Michael Caterina / USA Today)

On Aug. 11, 2021, Pearson instructed Shields in a gathering that this system was “going to go in another direction,” and that he would now not be working with gamers, in accordance with Shields’ testimony to WilmerHale investigators. Pearson and Shields spoke once more later that day within the coaches’ room at Yost Arena. Two days after that assembly, Pearson referred to as an officer with the college’s Department of Public Safety and Security (DPSS). According to the case report, Pearson instructed the DPSS officer that “earlier that day… he terminated a volunteer coach,” and that Shields stated “I’m going to get you” and indicated he needed to struggle about it.

Shields, when requested by a college police officer about Pearson’s allegations, acknowledged that the 2 spoke however “did not feel it was aggressive in nature,” the case report states. Shields instructed the officer that none of his statements may have been moderately interpreted as threatening or aggressive in nature and that “it is not in his nature to fight people, nor has it ever been.”

The case was subsequently closed.

In the WilmerHale report, investigators wrote that it’s “more likely than not that (Pearson) terminated Shields because he believed (Shields) raised concerns about COVID protocols and (Pearson’s) treatment of student athletes.”

Pearson coached Michigan to the 2022 Frozen Four. Last 12 months, three of the primary 5 picks within the NHL Draft have been Michigan gamers and two Michigan commits have been picked within the first spherical of the 2022 draft. Pearson signed a five-year contract in 2018 which paid him a base wage of $350,000 yearly (not together with efficiency bonuses). That contract expired in April.

(The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner contributed to this report.)

(Top photograph of Mel Pearson: Dave Reginek / Getty Images)



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