SAN JOSE – For more than a decade, dozens of San Jose State female athletes were told they were exaggerating, mistaken or naïve when they complained about the head athletic trainer massaging their breasts for shoulder injuries and groping buttocks for back injuries.
In a federal courtroom Tuesday, these women – many now in their 30s – were vindicated. In a plea deal with prosecutors, Scott Shaw pleaded guilty to two federal charges stemming from those sexual assault allegations, admitting that he willfully and intentionally violated the rights of two of those women in a way that, federal prosecutors said, “shocks the contemporary conscience.”
“Are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty of these charges?” U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman asked Shaw, who stood before her Tuesday morning, his hands folded.
“Yes,” he said.
The guilty pleas came nearly two weeks after a federal jury deadlocked in tense deliberations on the original six charges against Shaw, with all but one or two jurors believing he was guilty. The judge declared a mistrial on Aug. 3, and the case was pending until Tuesday’s agreement.
Shaw, 56, who voluntarily left the university in 2020 and is collecting a state pension, will return for the judge to decide his sentence on Nov. 14. He faces a maximum of two years in prison, one year for each misdemeanor count.
“It’s a little bit maddening to go through a whole trial, and 12 years of this person vehemently denying everything, then all of a sudden he shows up and admits to that,” said Caitlin Macky, a swimmer who was the first to complain about Shaw in 2009 and testified against him during the trial. Along with others, she watched him admit guilt Tuesday over a Zoom video conference from her home in San Diego. “Everyone called us liars for so long. It does feel better that it’s out there and it’s public record.”
Former gymnast Amy LeClair, a 2016 graduate who received a settlement from the university over her treatment by Shaw, said the guilty pleas are a relief.
“To hear him plead guilty to what he’s done justifies in my mind that no, what he did was not normal, and yes, I should have trusted my gut,” said LeClair who felt alone and doubted her instincts that she was being abused.
For Shaw’s sentencing, victims are invited to send written statements or speak against him.
Although more than two dozen former athletes since 2009 have made allegations against Shaw, the original six charges involve just four athletes whose experiences with Shaw occurred within the five-year statute of limitations.
Shaw’s two guilty pleas, that he violated the women’s constitutional rights to bodily integrity, centered on his treatment of two women who testified that he groped and fondled their breasts, areola and buttocks ostensibly for shoulder and back injuries.
The guilty plea caps a 14-year saga at San Jose State that began when 17 swimmers came forward with allegations that Shaw touched them inappropriately under their bras and underwear during treatment sessions. An internal investigation in 2010 by the school’s human resources department cleared Shaw, concluding his treatment was legitimate “trigger point” therapy. Shaw was allowed to continue working on female athletes at the university, unfettered, for another 10 years.
The scandal and new allegations came to light in 2020 after swim coach Sage Hopkins took his years-long crusade to oust Shaw outside the university, forcing San Jose State and the Cal State system to review the allegations. The fallout included the resignations of the university president and athletic director and more than $5 million in legal settlements for more than two dozen victims.
“For the dozens of women from nine separate teams, I think it’s obvious that these women were completely gaslit for more than a decade, and I hope that this brings a degree of closure,” said Hopkins, who sat through nearly every day of the two-week trial and appeared in the courtroom Tuesday as Shaw pleaded guilty.
Hopkins said he believes Shaw should face a “significantly longer sentence” than the maximum two years, and that it “highlights some concerns with the judicial system in terms of statute of limitations for sexual violence against women. I’m hopeful that at some point, that system will be changed to better protect the women of our society.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Hopkins sat next to one of Shaw’s victims, a swimmer from 2009, who had testified during the trial that Shaw had massaged her breast and touched her nipples while treating a shoulder injury. On the stand, she had testified that she was “wide-eyed” and in shock that the director of sports medicine at a Division I school would sexually assault her. “Through my head I was trying to justify why it happened. …I justified and justified and justified that this had to be appropriate treatment.”
In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice praised the women who came forward for their courage.
“Scott Shaw abused his position of trust and authority as a public university official to sexually assault female student-athletes who entrusted him with their medical care,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This egregious conduct violates federal law, and the Justice Department will aggressively prosecute individuals who exploit their positions of authority to sexually abuse our community members.”
Over the last two years, San Jose State has hired a new university president, a new athletic director and new head of its Title IX office who have all committed to protecting athletes and making certain similar abuses don’t happen again.
“Those who were harmed by the actions of Scott Shaw shouldered a burden for years and patiently waited for their day in court,” the school said in a statement Tuesday. “We hope they feel some vindication in this result. The university is committed to preventing sexual misconduct and will be vigilant in protecting our campus community.”
Just how many former athletes will appear during the November sentencing hearing to face Shaw and tell the judge the impact of his abuse is uncertain. Macky and LeClair said they are still thinking it through.
“Something about telling the person who did this to me feels so scary,” LeClair said Tuesday. “I just hope he doesn’t remember me at all.”